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Affinity Photo
14th March 2018 - 0 comments
I have recently been trying Affinity Photo (it is a direct competitor to Adobe Photoshop but at half the price of a years subscription). This is a link to a review which mirrors my thoughts.
Moving from Canon to Fuji
11th January 2018 - 0 comments
why I moved to Fuji
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Free Wordpress Website
28th December 2017 - 0 comments
Web site for free!
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Fuji X-T2
08th July 2017 - 0 comments
In: News
My latest project is investigating if any of the various manufacturers have a mirrorless system which will be able to give me the same quality of image and speed of autofocus as my Canon gear, in particular Sony Alpha 7R II which looks interesting but we will see. There aren’t many longer lenses available yet so I am investigating using Canon glass with Sony cameras with the Metabones adaptor. My conclusion as far as Sony is concerned is that Sony lenses are expensive, there are not many options especially for wildlife photographers and the Canon lenses don’t consistently perform as you would like. There seem to be quite a few other photographers out there looking to do a similar thing. Now with the Canon 1DX II released it may be time to change from my 1D MKIV to the 1D X MKI!!

However with the imminent release of the Fuji XT-2 I may have to rethink this – the Fuji range of lenses is second to none and superb glass as well.I am currently waiting for my XT-2 with 18-55mm lens and battery grip – will report back when I have had chance to use it.

First Impressions – have now had the Fuji X-T2 for a few weeks and I have to say that after a few initial misgivings I have got more used to it and have discovered that the image quality from the 24 mega pixel sensor is superb, the camera handles brilliantly and although a steep learning curve most of the controls seem to be very intuitive.

It came with the 18-55mm lens (although a kit lens it is superb) and I have now also purchased the 100-400mm with extender and also the 10-24mm zoom.

There is a lot of information on the web regarding processing of the X trans sensor files (and I have looked at Iridient Developer) but my Lightroom seems to be fine although the jpg files the camera produces are so good that I am thinking of not using the raw files at all!
French Pyrenees 2016
31st July 2016 - 0 comments
In: Trips
Trip to Bareges in the French Pyrenees - butterfly walks guided by Jude Lock from Borderline Holidays
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New MacBook Pro
15th December 2014 - 0 comments
First experience of a Mac Book Pro
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Canon Lens Date Codes
26th November 2014 - 0 comments
In: News
Canon Lens Date codes
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Lochdon, Mull 2013
01st August 2014 - 0 comments
In: Trips

Friday 17th

All packed up and off for our trip to Mull at 7 o’clock to Leighton Moss which has become our half way stop to Mull! Decided my 500mm lens was getting heavy to walk around with so took my new 400mm F5.6 lens for a walk around. However when we got Lower Hide and saw a pair of Marsh Harriers passing food I wished I had taken the 500mm! Still it was lovely to see. As time was pressing on we decided to travel the rest of our journey to our overnight stop in Glasgow. We do this so that on Saturday we just have the nice drive to Oban (from Braehead which is north of the city and along the shores of Loch Lomond)

Saturday 18th

Great excitement as always – up early for breakfast and off to Oban. For the first time in our trips to Mull (this is our third) the sun shone and the temperature gradually climbed to 14° C – a good omen we thought for our 2 weeks on Mull! Loch Lomond looked beautiful in the sunshine and we always enjoy this part of the trip anyway as it feels like we are actually on holiday now. Shopping in Tesco, Oban and fill up with fuel (you don’t want to buy fuel on Mull!) then to the ferry. Sunshine and warmth – off the ferry 15 minutes and we arrived at our destination – Fingal Cottage in Lochdonhead. Nice and early so we had time to unpack and walk to the bridge where the otter is usually seen.

Sunday 19th

Cloudy, dull and cold so we decided to walk to Grasspoint – not along the 3 mile road though (would have been too easy!) but along the loch side. What we didn’t realise was that it was much further that way – lovely to walk along the shore but there were many inlets and promontories so it wasn’t straight forward! However plenty of birdlife - the highlight of which was a Short Eared Owl unfortunately we could not get a good enough photo. Actually no photo at all! Found some early purple orchids at the edge of woodland (I should have taken my macro lens but had the SX50 as it was light enough to walk all day with). We cut back across to the road at this point as we realised it would take all day on the shore – a herd of red deer were running around giving us good views of them. As we walked down the road we spotted our first White Tailed Eagles (we ended the holiday having seen at least one eagle every day!). At Grasspoint (which is the closest part of Mull to the mainland) there was a seal (just one) but not much else so we wandered back to the cottage.

Monday 20th

This was the day of our trip with Mull Charters on the Lady Jayne to see White Tailed Eagles at close quarters. Now what lens to take? I decided to take the 400mm and also the 70-200 so I was covered whatever happened. This is an amazing trip – I would heartily recommend this to anyone interested in birds or photography. We had no idea how good it really would be – the skipper Martin Keivers cares passionately about these eagles and we were treated to a very informative commentary about them. He threw bread to attract the gulls and when the eagles saw the commotion they came to investigate – this is when the fish was thrown onto the loch and the eagle grabbed it. The pressure was on to get a great shot! Realising the 400mm would be too long I switched to the 70-200 – then as the eagle came down for the first catch I caught sight of Tam out of the corner of my eye – and panicked!! She had my camera with 400mm lens firing at the bird – having got caught up in the excitement. So I had to try and ignore that and try to get some shots. Looking back it would have been nice to just watch the action – from the bird in the sky to flying off with the fish was literally two seconds! Thanks to my lens I got some shots which I was very pleased with but if you ever go on this trip be warned – it is all over very quickly. What a trip though!!

Tuesday 21st

Weather seemed to be improving – warmer again today. This was Iona day. Set off for the hour drive – however the sat nav hadn’t learned yet about Mull roads! So when we arrived at the last minute (90 minutes later actually) for the ferry it was a mad panic to catch it. Fortunately all the passengers seemed to be late and we made it ok. It is only a ten minute crossing and once we arrived and walked away from the main centre it was so very peaceful. We decided to walk to St Columba’s Bay – beautiful scenery and loads of wildlife. A picnic on the beach here was lovely. On arrival back near the Abbey we heard the unmistakeable sound of the Corncrake and we were fortunate enough to see one – not a very good picture but it was such a privilege to see one.

One of the things I personally love about Mull and Iona is the lack of lots of people – in our very overcrowded land it is rare to find peace and quiet. No crowds, no queues, no litter, no chewing gum on the pavements (actually no pavements!) – maybe it is because we are with like-minded people but it is very nice and I wish sometimes that it was the same everywhere! Also the people live in harmony with the natural world (pretty much how it must have been at one time on the mainland).

After arriving back at Fingal Cottage I sat at the loch side – two cuckoos (yes two!) flew over the loch. Actually there were cuckoos all over Mull – we do not get them back home these days but everywhere we went there was the sound of cuckoos calling. Also Osprey fishing over the loch.

Wednesday 22nd

Today is our trip to the Treshnish Isles (specifically Lunga) to see the sea bird colonies with Turus Mara. Also included is a visit to Staffa (Mendelssohn and his Hebridean Overture etc.) and Fingal’s cave. So lenses cleaned, batteries charged and memory cards cleared we set off for the drive to Ulva Ferry to board the boat for the trip. Weather was a bit iffy and it was very windy but the boat was fine until it cleared the shelter of the headland! Then it was like being the proverbial cork being tossed all over the place!! However the hour journey was over at last (only one person sea sick and it wasn’t any of us!!) and it was time to disembark and venture over the slippery rocks to Lunga. Just as we remembered it several years before the puffins were waiting for us (they actually really were as when humans arrive on the island the larger birds which bully them disappear and so it is safe for the puffins to come to land). This is also a fantastic trip – if you are a photographer then you are presented with some wonderful photo opportunities and if you just want to see the birds then you will be in bird heaven! Needless to say hundreds of images were taken (still sorting through them now!!)

The journey back from Lunga to Staffa was even rougher! Enough said. Staffa is a lovely little island and there were also puffins here. We took the opportunity to walk to the cave and see the basalt columns disappear under the sea (they appear again at the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland) then boarded the boat for the (even rougher!) journey back to Ulva. What a fantastic day.

As it was fairly late when we arrived back we treated ourselves to tea at the Craignure Hotel which was really, really nice. We would recommend this hotel very much as well as the Bellhaven Best!!

Thursday 23rd

Poor weather forecast for today – it really was but not as bad as we thought. Managed to do a few walks around locally between showers – even found an antler from quite a large stag. Later I experimented with the Lee Big Stopper – had bought it a couple of months ago and never really had the chance to try it out. I have to say it must take a lot of use to be proficient with it!!

Friday 23th

A better forecast today and so it turned out. We had decided to venture to Lochbuie anyway whatever the weather. A great choice as it turned out – the weather was fantastic and we were treated with some amazing skies. The sky was a lovely shade of blue with spectacular cloud formations. The drive was very good also along the side of Loch Spelve with great views of Golden Eagle. Lots of wheatears, rock pipits and pied wagtails around and in the 17 degree temperature I obtained my customary red forehead!!

We walked along the shore to the beautiful Laggan Sands, past a lovely little church - shame the castle was covered in scaffolding but you can’t have everything. Also visited the stone circle with more views of golden eagle. It was even warm enough to see some heat haze and have some ice cream from the small unattended shop in Lochbuie!

Then drove back for high tide and our nightly otter hunt – still no luck.

Saturday 24th

Ulva Ferry today - we had remembered what a wonderful peaceful place it was. Sadly when we arrived it was closed!! We weren’t expecting that so had to revert to plan B (well we made one up as didn’t have an alternative plan!). We went to Loch Na Keale to look for otters – still no luck. Decided then to get our weekly shopping and go back to base for a trip to Grasspoint. We were surprised to find a thriving colony of green hairstreaks in the sunshine. Plenty of stonechats around but no seals off Grasspoint.

Sunday 25th

Ulva Ferry again! We had actually checked that it would be open today and as the weather was amazingly still lovely we ended up doing a lovely walk around the Farm Circuit and the Shore and Woodland walk. It was warm and sunny (unusual for us on Mull!) and plenty of butterflies around. When it is sunny like this Mull really is the best place in the world to be.

Monday 26th

It had to end soon!! Weather bad for the morning so we watched and enjoyed Les Miserables and had some lunch in the cottage. Weather started to improve then so decided to find an otter somewhere and off we went to Loch Scridain (probably the most reliable place on Mull to see one). Driving up and down was hopeless so we decided to walk. Parked the car at one end of the loch and started walking up and down. No luck but then……… what was that shape near the shore? Yes we had found our own otter – a big dog otter which may have been the same one from a couple of years ago. We tracked it along the loch for a total of about 3 miles remembering to be still and out of sight when he was on the surface and move quickly to be ahead of him when underwater. We usually had around 30 seconds when he was under and eventually managed to get ahead and near the water behind some rocks and waited. Wow – he came out of the water quite close and proceeded to sit and dry himself for what seemed to be ages. What a privilege to be able to see this magnificent animal (who was seemingly unaware of us). Best moment of the holiday so far I think!

Tuesday 27th

The day dawned warm and sunny – amazing weather on this holiday and we felt lucky to be treated to so much sunshine. Forget the long trousers, coats, thermals etc. this was shorts and tee shirts. Off to Fidden to look for hares – quite a long drive to Fionnphort to park and then find out where to go. Ended up driving to a camp site and parking nearby. It was on this drive that we commented on the standard of driving and courtesy of other motorists – this had changed since our previous visit and it seemed that less drivers were willing to wait and there were certainly more cars parked in passing places!! Anyway Fidden was beautiful and we counted 32 hares in total. The best tactic was to sit and wait – before long one would come along and be startled – it would stop (just enough time to take a shot) and then run off fast in the direction it had come from! They didn’t seem to be bothered about the cliffs either as we saw several running up almost vertical cliffs. Lots of birds also – oystercatchers, wheatears, lapwings plovers and herons. There were some fantastic views to Iona across the small stretch of water which separates it from Mull.

On the way back we stopped at the old bridge near Pennyghael but the light was starting to go so ended up driving back for tea.

Wednesday 29th

Visited Garmony and Fishnish today. Quite a pleasant walk along near the shore but not as close as we would have liked. More green hairstreaks along with orange tip, green veined white and peacock. Grasspoint in the afternoon and found the green hairstreaks again (just along the road to Grasspoint from the parking place). 21 degrees today – lovely views of sea eagles again.

Thursday 30th

Something new for us today – we went to the Ardmeanach peninsula – the long walk to see the fossil tree would be too far so we decided to park at the NT car park at Burg and just walk along the track. A beautiful day again and warm and sunny. Butterflies all over again – green hairstreak, pearl bordered fritillary, speckled wood, green veined white, peacock and orange tip mainly. Heard cuckoos again – it seemed that wherever we went on Mull there were cuckoos. This is a walk which is a must to anyone visiting Mull – no need to do the whole 10 miles and back to the fossilised tree as the walk we did was fantastic – ruined settlements, superb views, butterflies and other insects as well as a great variety of flowers.

Back to base via the Three Lochs but light wasn’t right so we had a quick look and decided to return the following day.

Friday 31st

Last day – what a shame! However we have had the most wonderful two weeks in great weather and on a great island. Every day there had been something to see at the cottage – sea eagles, all manner of water birds and butterflies and lots of spring flowers. Cuckoos abound on the island and most days we saw golden eagle – in addition we also saw short eared owl, tawny owl, buzzards and hen harrier.

We all decided that Lochbuie was a special place and so returned there – we did attempt to drive to Croggan but this is a place best walked to not driven!! So we spent the whole day walking from Lochbuie the opposite direction to our first visit. Seals, great views and just a lovely walk.

There was a stop to take in the Three Lochs and as the light was brilliant managed to take some reasonable images (well we had to as it is probably the most photographed scene on Mull)!

That’s it then – all done and packed for home.

But it wasn’t quite the end.

At around nine thirty we ventured out to the bridge for the last time to see if we could see the elusive otter. We met a family from Manchester who originated from Nottingham (small world etc.!) and then at about 9:40 we saw…. an otter. Sadly not any good photos as it was too dark (although we did see a hedgehog) but to see the otter we had tried to see for two weeks was a great way to end the trip!

Bring on the next trip to Mull (or is it Skye next……)
Stratford Butterfly Farm
01st August 2014 - 0 comments
In: Trips
Stratford Butterfly Farm

I decided pretty much at the last minute to pay a visit to the best butterfly farm in the UK - Stratford Butterfly Farm! As it doesn't open till 10 am in the winter I didn't have to leave very early but was unprepared for the M69 to be closed (causing me a 20 mile detour!!). However I finally arrived around 10:30 and parked the car nearby £5.00 for all day - not the main car park but a little one near a hotel on the left just before Stratford Butterfly Farm. The farm itself has no parking (apart from blue badge holders) so if visiting you need to factor this in.

There is a room at Stratford Butterfly Farm where you can leave coats etc - if visiting in winter and wearing glasses be prepared to not see a thing when you walk to the reception desk!! Then with great anticipation I made my way to the entrance to Stratford Butterfly Farm to see the butterflies - to be greeted by another blast of humid air which caused another temporary loss of sight!! Not for so long this time. Having been before I knew it would take a while to get the lens clear so I took the lens cap off and sat and had a few cups of coffee while watching the butterflies.

Lens misting up - the best approach to minimise this is to try and keep your lens and camera at a temperature as close as you can to the butterfly house before entering. Difficult in the winter! However if you keep the camera inside the car (in a plastic bag if you can) on the journey it will help. Once inside Stratford Butterfly Farm take the lens cap off and just leave the camera and lens. I know it is tempting to wipe it but resist - you will only make it worse. It took around 45 minutes to demist completely and was then fine for the rest of the day. Several people asked me about this while in the house so I know it is a common problem and a tricky one to sort out.

I must have spent around 4 hours taking photos and although it was incredibly busy and yes you always get someone who seems to deliberately stand in front of you (but they probably didn't see you with a camera and tripod!) I came away with over 300 images which will take a while to sort out. I used my trusty Canon 1D MKIV with my Canon 100mm L IS lens and also my 70-300 L IS lens. The macro was on a tripod but also used handheld some of the time whereas the zoom was used handheld (it has great IS!) I tried to keep the ISO down to 400 or 800 but in some of the darker areas had to use up to 3200 when shooting handheld. The tripod obviously helped and where I used it I could lower the ISO, lower the shutter speed and use mirror lock up and timer (or at least I could when the butterfly was sat still!!)

Mating Owl butterfliesEF2C6931IMG_4928

The caterpillar room is well worth a visit - full of eggs and caterpillars on the plants growing there if you look for them and also there were cages with silkmoth larvae and some fascinating death's head hawkmoth larvae. Also an asclepias plant which attracted some butterflies for nectar.

Pupating caterpillar

The main flight area of Stratford Butterfly Farm was fantastic as always - they claim to have over 250 species of butterflies throughout the year and yesterday there were some I have not seen before. But it is the quantity that amazes - always hundreds of butterflies flying around and I was able to observe butterfly pairings, egg laying and caterpillars feeding. Also interesting that in different areas of the flight area there were different species of butterfly - in one corner I counted 83 Clearing butterflies one one plant!

Species seen in Stratford Butterfly Farm were :

Scarlet Peacock

Owl butterfly

Red Lacewing

Banded Orange


Zebra Longwing

Common Postman

Great Eggfly

Great Tree Nymph

Indian Leafwing

Blue Banded Morpho

Great Mormon


Images will be on the site during the next week or two
Wildlife Trips 2014
01st August 2014 - 0 comments
In: News
Wildlife Trips

This May we are off to the Vercors in France for a butterfly, orchid, birds and mammals holiday with Naturetrek. Plenty of gentle walking and a lunch time picnic - lots of opportunities for photographs with many species of butterflies and orchids not common in the UK.

June sees us back in Kent for the hares and hopefully this time (fourth time lucky!) we will get to see heath fritillary at Blean Woods

September then will find us in Somerset where we can hopefully find birds and landscapes (not too far from north or south coast of the UK - Dorset and Devon)

Photographically I will be concentrating on stock photography but I have been building my breeding species of butterflies ready for photographing next year. I already have Chinese Oak silkmoth cocoons which I hope to breed from and have recently added Chequered Blue (butterfly from France) and Duke of Burgundy pupae. Shortly arriving too will be White Letter Hairstreak and Silver Studded Blue ova and White Admiral larvae. So along with my Large White pupae, Speckled Wood larvae and Brown Hairstreak ova I should hopefully have a nice range of species to photograph.

I have recently bought the equipment to enable me to have my flash off camera (always being told that this is where it needs to be!) so will be trying that out during the winter months.

Then I need to master the Lee ND filter (tried this summer but need to spend more time with it!)

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Tripod Review Gitzo GT3530LS
01st August 2014 - 0 comments
Gitzo GT3530LS

This is probably the last tripod I will ever buy - my only wish is that instead of buying 2 or 3 cheaper ones first I had found this tripod. Tripods give us a way to make the camera platform as steady as possible and as a result the early tripods were no more than a solid surface with legs.

For landscape photography or even portrait photography in the studio, the flexibly offered by flexible or hiking tripods sacrifice a lot of stability. Having a flexible center column has a tremendous impact on stability and the small plates which some tripods have at the top also causes stability problems. When using very long exposures even the slightest movement can ruin the sharpness of the image, however with the GT3530LS you are buying the ultimate solution in maximum stability. The GT3530LS can support 39.6lbs (18kg) of equipment and easily holds my Canon 500mm lens, extender and Canon 1D MKIV camera . A bonus here is that due to the carbon fibre design it only weighs 4 lbs (1.840kg)!

The GT3530LS features three position angle locks for the legs that have the benefit of becoming more stable under load.

As there is no centre column the GT3530LS can get down to a minimum height of 4.3” (11cm) and you can then very quickly raise it back up to its maximum height of 58.3”(148cm) - this is just under 6 feet tall! When I first fully extended it I was amazed by its height and it is perfect for my eye level.

It is rock solid and I use it with the lens and camera as mentioned above but with a Jobu Black Widow gimbal head. It is also used for my macro work and if I do a long exposure. As it is so light it is easy to carry either by hand or in my camera bag and I have walked for miles with it and it has never been a problem.

Wonderful - it is now not in production anymore but if you can find a used one buy it - you will never regret it!
Shipley Park Butterfly Transect
01st August 2014 - 0 comments
In: News
Butterfly Transect - Shipley Park

For the last few years I have been walking a transect in Shipley Park (between Heanor and Ilkeston in Derbyshire) - the season runs from April until September so this year has just started.

Nothing sighted last week (6th April) but today 13th April was a lovely sunny warm afternoon so we walked the butterfly transect and saw the following butterflies:

Peacock 12

Orange Tip 5 (4 male and one female - the female was sat on a toothpaste tube believe it or not!)

Green Veined White 1

Comma 1

Brimstone 1

Will be adding the records since 2008 shortly and also more info on the butterfly transect itself - a link to the results from this recording scheme can be found here .

Update 27th April

Sunny and warmish day - slightly chill wind. We counted the following :

Peacock 5

Brimstone 4 (all female)

Green Veined White 4

Orange Tip 4

Speckled Wood 2 (first of the year)

Small White 2

Small Tortoiseshell 2 (also first of the year)
Vercors (by train) with Naturetrek
01st August 2014 - 0 comments
In: Trips
Just gone through my photos - have processed all the butterflies and landscapes but still have orchids and flowers to go through (and name!). Some of the butterflies we saw are below - full review coming shortly.

Butterfly Breeding
01st August 2014 - 0 comments
In: News
Butterfly breeding
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Acorn Barn in Kent June 2013
24th July 2013 - 0 comments
In: Trips
Saturday 15th June

It was a breezy and damp start to the day, but undeterred we decided to stop at Butterfly World near St Albans for a few hours (we usually stop at an RSPB reserve but as the weather was so unsettled we didn’t fancy getting a soaking!). Tropical butterflies in the greenhouse were very good – good selection of species and plenty of them. It wasn’t too busy either and quiet apart from the school groups!! As the sun was shining we walked to the meadows but the wind was very strong and so no butterflies were seen at all. As the rain clouds gathered we decided to make our way on to Kent and Acorn Barn. For some reason the sat nav decided to route us via London and the Blackwall Tunnel (should have ignored it!) so it was well into the afternoon when we arrived after our usual visit to Tesco. Even windier at Acorn Barn and we worried that the huge Oak tree above the barn might blow over!

Sunday 16th June

A bright yet cloudy start today - we were due to meet some good friends at Dungeness today which we did but the weather started to deteriorate as we walked towards the furthest lakes where we usually see hobbies. Quick change of direction saw us in a hide just as the heavens opened. We sat and watched the terns for 45 minutes while it threw it down!! Lunch was had in the hide and eventually the rain ceased so we wandered back to the visitor centre. There were lots of assorted warblers and good views of a marsh harrier along the walk. In the afternoon the sun shone and as we went to the ARC hide it was lovely and warm. What a difference – the butterflies and dragonflies were now all flying and from the hide a lovely great crested grebe family were clearly visible with the striped baby continually trying to get on the parents back! Back for tea and a kestrel and a green woodpecker were seen on the fence.

Monday 17th June

Up early for hare watch! Not as visible this year, we think as the crop has changed (last year was oil seed rape which had blown all over the place making it impossible for the hares to walk through) – this year it is broad beans and there is plenty of room. So the hares very occasionally come out into the open but will very quickly disappear back when they see any sign of movement. However we had one on the lawn outside the barn so got some shots through the glass (which was very clean). Didn’t know it at the time but these were to be the only shots we got all week!
Went to Port Lympne today and did the safari ride – something very surreal about seeing giraffes and rhinos in the Kent countryside!! Very much recommended for a day out (very hot too!!)
Back for tea at the Kings Arms in Hythe – very good food at reasonable prices.

Tuesday 18th June

Sunny and warm, right in the middle of the heath fritillary season, ideal conditions. So off we went to East Blean Woods to see them all. This is the third year we have been in Kent at the right time and in sunny conditions but sadly once again not one was seen. This year we were too early!! The only way to see these butterflies we think therefore is to make a long day of it when they have been reported flying. Booking a holiday 9 months ahead does not work!! Also went to West Blean but none there either. Allegedly a few had been seen elsewhere in Kent - we were told to come back in two weeks!! Nice walk though and we did see ringlet, orange tip (very late!), large white, large skipper, speckled wood, red admiral and green hairstreak. Back home to look for hares but none around.

Wednesday 19th June

Forecast the best day of the week so we went to Park Gate Down for the orchids. What a lovely place – loads of them all over, there must have been 500 monkey orchids along with lots of common spotted, lady and butterfly orchids. Find of the day was the fly orchid. Quite a few butterflies including a beautiful freshly emerged Brown Argus. Also got to use my angle finder for the first time – a very good addition to my kit and saved my knees getting any more bruised!
Then on to Lydden Down – one of my favourite places in Kent for butterflies. Very sunny and warm – lots of butterflies here including Adonis blue, common blue, brown argus, small heath, large white, small white and highlight so far of two clouded yellows.
Back to the barn and no hares visible again.
Update – later on three hares were spotted and as I walked closer to them a fox ran out from between the rows of beans and stopped dead, stared at me for 5 seconds and ran back the way he had come!

Thursday 20th June

Bad forecast today, thunderstorms and very wet. However it wasn’t - nice dry morning breakfast outside again. This is a lovely place and the only sound that can be heard is nature. Had a later start today because of the forecast and headed towards Rye Harbour – didn’t get there as the rain did arrive and we diverted to Dymchurch. Always nice to visit this little seaside town (probably nicer out of season!) After a nice lunch in the local café we drove down Dungeness and stopped for a wander. By now the rain had stopped but it was very foggy – even so we ascended the old lighthouse (although we could see nothing!) which was very interesting. Saw a cinnabar moth on some ragwort (both rare nowadays) along with a small white laying eggs on the sea kale. Back to change for a tea with the family at the Mayfly in Hawkinge – good food and great prices!

Friday 21st June

Last day and we had planned to go to Dymchurch and Dungeness but as it was dull and damp decided to head for Canterbury first. The sun was forecast for the afternoon. Lovely city but a bit pricey to see the cathedral (which you now can’t even see without paying to get into the courtyard!). Browsed the shops, drank coffee in Waterstones and had lunch in Wetherspoons. Weather starting to look better so off we went to Dungeness to find cool and breezy. However we did see some grass snakes and newts on the RSPB reserve. With the conditions there were no butterflies, dragonflies or even birds – very quiet afternoon.
We had decided to attend the wild flower walk led by Own Leyshon – a great leader who knew the flowers of Dungeness very well. Shame the weather had reverted to our typical British summers by now with drizzle, mist and a cold wind!
Back to the barn to pack, finish the G&T and beer and eat the ice creams!! And to reflect on another lovely week at Acorn Barn – it is a bit like coming home now!!
Marsh Fritillary
21st April 2013 - 0 comments
Last year I purchased a Marsh Fritillary egg batch with the sole purpose of setting up a good breeding stock of these attractive but threatened butterflies. With some trepidation as if they got to the adult stage and if they paired and if they laid eggs (three big ifs!!) the larvae hibernate quite early in the season (September usually) and I had never been able to over winter them in the past. The larvae in this case grew quickly feeding on potted Devils Bit Scabious (Succisa pratensi) and soon pupated - the adults emerged in mid May over a period of a few weeks. They were placed inside my flight cage (a large black netting cage like this one here) and although I never saw it happen they must have paired as one evening when checking the scabious plants I was hugely delighted to find a batch of ova under one of the leaves. Not as delighted however as a few days later I found another batch!!

There then followed a period of waiting for them to hatch - I thought this would be in a week or two but seemed to take around 4 weeks. The ova turned very dark crimson and then grey just before hatching and then there were hundreds of tiny larvae. This was around the end of June and they fed for around 6-7 weeks before seeming to vanish completely. This was because they had formed their hibernaculum which is where they would spend the winter in hibernation. This was the danger period as I had never achieved over wintering before.

The advice was to "just stick them outside and leave them" - which I did and the British winter threw everything at them - wind, rain, snow, frost and cold. I was therefor delighted when on the first warm day in the year (February) I looked in the cage (which was like this) and saw a glistening black mass on top of the scabious leaves!! Too many to count but they had emerged from hibernation and were sat warming themselves. Unfortunately this was not to be the end of winter as we had some heavy snow and more cold wet and wind to follow.

When the weather did finally warm up the larvae became quite active (it is day length more than weather which seems to govern when they end hibernation) and I now have the problem of food plant. The winter has dragged on so long and been so cold and devoid of sun that the plants had not grown as quick as normal. I had to improvise with wild honeysuckle (which I have planted in the garden) and which they seemed to take to much to my surprise. However I have visited Naturescape and stocked up on some more plants in case.

That is up to date to today (21st April) - I think around this time last year the previous generation had mostly pupated!) and I will update this blog as things develop.

UPDATE 12th MAY 2013

Larvae are now housed in two terracotta pots with large sleeves - the pots contain devils bit scabious (which has the majority of larvae on them) but also a pot of teasels. We had a very strong wind last week which blew the original pot over so I had to rescue some larvae and they ended up in a plastic box for a while. I decided to give them a choice between scabious, wild honeysuckle and teasel with a leaf of each. Rather surprisingly they chose the teasel! Still nowhere near pupation and with the weather as it is they are not going to feed or grow much - they need some warmth (as do we all)!

UPDATE 7th June 2013

Just back from two weeks in Mull - one larva has now pupated at last. The others are still feeding - while we were away the Teasel which they had started eating was ignored so all that batch perished sadly. The others left with scabious and honeysuckle had nearly finished the scabious when we got back and had started on the honeysuckle. I have now transferred them to a netted cylindrical cage and with scabious and they are all happily munching. Away again shortly so hopefully they will pupate before that. Looks like I will not get adults until end June or early July!!

UPDATE 17th July 2013

Back after our last break to find that they had all pupated. Very late this year - we duly had lots of adults emerge over a period but sadly no seen pairings which means that probably no eggs this year.

LATER - definitely no eggs this year sadly - will need to renew the stock for next year.
British Wildlife Centre
15th March 2013 - 0 comments
In: Trips
I had read about the British Wildlife Centre on many occaisions and always though that it would be a wonderful place to visit even though it involved a 170 mile journey from home to get there! So finally I decided that I just had to go. It was with great excitement then that I booked a hotel (cheapest I could find on the thinking that it was for only one night and how bad could it really be!) and booked a day off work (Feb 14th) so that I could spend a whole day with British wildlife.

Worried a little on the day I was due to drive down (had more snow) but by the time I left there was none to speak of and as I drove further south it disappeared completely and the evening became a dry, clear and cold one. Arriving at the hotel (will spare the owners by not naming it here!) I parked in the large secure car park (not!) and booked myself in. I was led to a cupboard on the second floor which alarmingly turned out to be my room for the night! I then needed to get my gear and overnight bag out of the car which I did manage to do but after several trips in the dark over a car park full of holes (most of which had been nicely topped up with water by the days rain!).

After a good nights sleep dreaming of foxes and stoats (a bit odd I know!) I awoke to a (cold) breakfast which after being replaced was relatively harmless. Then off to the BWC - so keen I was there an hour early so got my kit together and reviewed the days objectives. I knew that I wanted pictures of a stoat sticking its head up as they do, foxes (any as I had not taken any before), badger as again had not seen a live one and a harvest mouse (which are the most adorable of little creatures).

The day was actually a lot better than I had expected - there was a good group of friendly photographers and the keepers were obviously interested in their work. The visit started off in the walk through red squirrel enclosure (where one jumped onto my back). Others had them on their lenses or trying to find food in their camera bags! We had a week in Northumberland to see these animals but this was much closer (and there were more of them). Foxes next - a rather timid male fox and a lively vixen (who nipped my elbow). Foxes close up are gorgeous and I love their colour! The wildcats were not playing today sadly so we then moved on to a hedgehog - not seen one in the wild for years. Used to see them all the time (mostly flat on the road) but when I was a child I do remember them being very common. This one was placed on the ground (very natural) and then on a large log (very not natural and it kept slipping off).

It was then time for lunch so I had a wander in the barn and hedgerow area - lovely setup for mice with old boots and pots for them to crawl in and out of, and also lots of runs for stoats and weasels. After lunch the owls arrived - we had a barn owl and a tawny owl on the same log as the hedgehog was placed earlier and then onto a post. Managed to get a lovely shot of a tawny owl on the log.

Had always wanted a barn owl photo with it looking out around a tree

Once finished with the owls and harvest mice we were escorted past the otters to the deer. Now most people were very reluctant to venture beyond the otter enclosure so time with the deer was minimal as the keepers realised I think that nobody was left with them - all having transferred to where the otters were. This was a highlight of the day but at the same time the least realistic - the otters were fed with chicks and the keepers seemed to delight in getting the otters to launch themselves into the water (when in reality they would just slip in silently). I had to confess that I did get a shot (not for a great otter pic but more for the challenge of doing it!)

We were rapidly approaching the end of our session now and we moved onto the polecats (cat meat smeared on to a stump) not good for photos and stoats and weasels (same thing with cat meat). While the keepers were trying to coax the badger out I went back to the polecats and stoat and got some more realistic shots of them including one with its head sticking up

The badger finally emerged and I got a few shots before spending some more time with the house mice

and then it was time to leave.

All told it was a lovely day which I thoroughly enjoyed - lucky with the weather as apart from a few showers it was dry and bright. The BWC does a wonderful job especially with its conservation work which is much needed in our over crowded island. For more information and to book a photography day click here
Northumberland in November 2012
21st December 2012 - 0 comments
In: Trips
Saturday 24th

With a cold and frosty start we set off on our journey to Elsdon – we planned to stop at Saltholme RSPB for a wander around but when we arrived the weather was the same as the journey there – foggy! So foggy you could see nothing out on the reserve at all. So we settled for a coffee instead (much warmer than being out in the cold fog!) Then on our way again and a quick stop at Asda in the Metro Centre (enormous place) we said farewell to the hustle and bustle of the city and drove the last 40 miles to our holiday cottage near Elsdon. The A696 is a lovely road and apart from the occasional small village there was only countryside and big skies from Ponteland to Otterburn. As we approached our turning we were greeted with a beautiful landscape of frosty fields with a low mist hanging over the valley of the River Rede. As darkness fell we settled in to our new surroundings and after reviewing the weather (rain!) changed our plans for the first part of the week.

Sunday 25th

After a quick call to our wildlife guide who was planning on taking us out on Monday we decided to postpone till Thursday as the forecast for Monday was bad. He did give us a location for our target species for the week (Red Squirrel) which was in Harwood village. As it was raining we visited Otterburn Mill for a while and when the rain eased we made our way via Elsdon to Harwood. Sadly the rain descended again and while we sat in the car and watched the rain through ever steaming up windows we saw a Red Squirrel run across the forest track in front of us! We were happy to have made a sighting on our first day. The rain appeared to have set in for the day so we decided to visit Rothbury – nice old town but as it was Sunday it was very quiet. The River Cocquet was impressive though as it powered through the village swollen by the recent heavy rains. As we sat at a set of traffic lights we spotted a tree creeper. Back home via some more wonderful scenery and roads that looked more like small streams.

Monday 26th

Weather bad again so made tracks to Jedburgh (as we were only 12 miles from the Scottish border and wildlife photography was nigh on impossible we though a trip to Scotland was a good idea) where we found a wonderful new visitor centre with a very helpful and friendly lady. Sad to say the rest of the town was a disappointment – a far cry from its glory days. However Mary Queen of Scots house was very interesting and highly recommended if in the area. Another lunch in a steamed up car and back to the cottage to escape the rain!

Tuesday 27th

Kielder was planned for today and it did not disappoint. A visit to the hide resulted in 5 squirrels some in reasonable range of our cameras. We had the new Canon SX50 with us so we put its 50x view through its paces – highly impressive little camera. Later we visited the Kielder Birds of Prey centre where we were able to get close up head shots of several birds of prey including White Tailed Eagle, Peregrine and my own favourite the Goshawk. Then we were able to get really close to the birds as Ray gave us the opportunity to feed them – weather too bad for flight. Ray is a real pro, really knows his stuff and looks after the birds wonderfully well and we learned a lot from him. So at last some photography (although it was dull and damp!)

Wednesday 28th

Waterfall day today! Very excited as I was planning to use my Lee Big Stopper to take some long exposures. However the walk to Hareshaw Linn had been closed for health and safety reasons as one of the bridges had become unstable. So after great disappointment we decided to do a walk near Falstone village (near Kielder). Don’t go there on a Wednesday (it is closed!) The tea rooms where we planned to park were closed – the pub was closed (all day) and the village was full of signs which said no parking. Not the friendliest of villages and we will not be in a hurry to return! However once we had parked near the Post Office (you guessed – it was also closed) we had a very nice walk up through some woods and back down to the village – wonderful views and although no wildlife the walk was invigorating and interesting. Once the walk was over we went the short distance back to Kielder (Leaplish) and revisited the squirrel hide. Plenty of squirrels again and this time we also saw a tree creeper and a brambling hiding with the chaffinches. We drove home observing a fantastic sunset but sadly arrived back just as it was ending. The sky was on fire!

Thursday 29th

This was the day we were off with Martin Kitching from Northern Experience Northern Experience Wildlife Tours – postponed from Monday when we had heavy rain. The day dawned bright and frosty and we were soon loaded up and on our way. First visit was to Stannington churchyard where there is a well-known squirrel feeding station – more squirrels observed here along with a tree creeper. Then to look at some gulls and then to Woodhorn – an old colliery which has been turned into a celebration of its history. There is also a wonderful bird feeding station which doubles as a squirrel feeding station also. Someone has taken plenty of time to carefully lay branches for them to run along (and sometimes stop to eat nuts on!) Fantastic place for squirrels. We spent probably too long there and ended up having lunch (we are sure Martin wanted us to have lunch somewhere else)! Finally we finished the day at Cresswell Pool which is a Northumberland Nature Reserve and we all agreed that it was probably the best hide we have ever been in. There were snipe, curlew, lapwing and all the usual water birds plus short eared owl, kestrel and sparrow hawk. Wonderful and a big thank you to Martin for showing us these places.

Friday 30th

Last day already! As we had such a lovely day on Thursday we decided to go back to Woodhorn for more squirrels (where Martin joined us) and then to Cresswell where we saw the same birds again but this time also spotted a bittern which made several appearances. Then as dusk was falling on another beautiful sunset we watched a barn owl hunting over the dunes. Then back to The Redesdale Arms where we had a the most wonderful meal. A fitting end to our time in Northumberland and I am sure we will be back – if only for the waterfalls!!
Kent June 2012
24th June 2012 - 0 comments
In: Trips

Saturday 9th June

Two years since our last trip to Kent when we stayed at Acorn Barn near Bilsington. As there were so many hares within easy reach of the camera we decided to visit again. Should be interesting to see what has changed.

We set off on Saturday planning to stop at Rainham Marshes (RSPB) on the way down as it was just off our route. Weather wasn’t too bad but we had seen the forecast for the next week – not promising! Gales and rain and lots of both. Interesting place though – a bit too windy for many birds to fly but we managed to spot several egrets amongst the reeds. Plenty of marsh frogs also – heard but not many seen! There were a couple of red admirals also.

After the usual shopping for provisions for the week ahead we arrived at Acorn Barn to sunshine. Everything looked the same at the barn and we got a friendly greeting from the owners. We did notice a huge new housing development near the Tesco in Ashford which wasn’t there in 2010! During the week we found quite a few housing developments where there used to be fields or countryside. Whatever happened to our green and pleasant land?

Evening sun brought the chance to take some pictures of the view from the barn as well as the hares – there was even one on the drive to welcome us!

Sunday 10th June

We planned to visit Dungeness today as the forecast wasn’t too bad. However as there had been so much rain all the water levels were very high and there was no space for waders. For the first time ever we visited the hides but they were all empty – nothing to see. We did find a group of people waiting for the purple heron (had been there hours with no success) but having not seen anything we made our way back. Made the wrong decision and decide to take the long walk back to the visitor centre – rain arrived on a day which was forecast to be dry and we got soaked! Still a nice day – still windy though. Made our way back to the barn where the hares were still out in the field so managed to get some more shots of them. I made it my mission to take pictures every morning and evening of the hares. A kestrel came and sat on the fence (had gone before I got the camera) and there were several thrushes around also. Butterflies today – red admiral and a few green veined whites. Think it is too cold and damp for our usual species to be flying.

Monday 11th June

We were going to revisit Dungeness but as the forecast was wet decided to go to Wingham Wildlife Park – made a pleasant change to see overseas animals – meerkats, lemurs, lions and tigers. However it was a lovely warm day with no rain. So we know that this week is going to be difficult to gauge the weather! More hares before breakfast and after dinner today again. More in the sunshine and pictures seem to get better each day! Guess they are getting more used to this strange man with a big lens being around. Kestrel visited again too. We took a short drive out to the military canal and some pictures of a lovely sky over it before coming back home.

Tuesday 12th June

Dry forecast so we knew what was going to happen! Decided to go to Rye as it was a nice little town when we visited before – morning was supposed to be wet with a dry afternoon before the weather closed in overnight. It was a damp but otherwise ok morning which we spent wandering round the town before heading to Rye harbour nature reserve for the dry afternoon. As you can guess it was far from dry! Got soaked and the hides only showed black headed gulls (plenty of chicks) but nothing much else. There was also one avocet which flew off fairly quickly. Back to the barn to dry out – more hares some very close this time. There is a horse in the field which seems to have encouraged the hares to come out of the field – they like to sit at the bottom of the garden just the other side of the fence. Also today we saw a lesser spotted woodpecker family (think they are in the large oak tree next to the barn); a pied wagtail which sat on the fence and the evenings highlight was a fly past from a barn owl!

Wednesday 13th June

Blean woods for heath fritillary and then Denge woods for Duke of Burgundy. Sunny, warm the right time of year but no butterflies. We did the whole circuit of the RSPB footpath which went to where all the new coppicing had been done but despite being plenty of food plant and flowers and also being warm and sunny we did not see a single butterfly. Very strange and we can only assume that the rain and wind had finished off the spring butterflies. Plenty of orchids at Bonsai Bank however (and we did see a female common blue here so hopefully the next generation of blues will be around later in the year). Fragrant orchids were just flowering and there were lady and butterfly orchids although these had seen better days. By far the most common orchid was the common spotted.

Thursday 14th June

Park Gate Down for orchids followed by sandwich bay nature reserve. Lovely warm sunny summers day although a little windy – we have noticed that in recent years it can be either sunny and breezy or wet and still! There were quite a few monkey orchids around among the butterfly, fragrant, and common spotted orchids. After spending a lovely few hours here we drove to Sandwich bay nature reserve and had a windy picnic looking at the bay. Tide was out which was bad news for spotting birds but we did the walk through the reserve calling at the hide – although as the tide was so far out we could only spot wildlife through binoculars. Shelduck and curlew were plentiful, the latter being repeatedly disturbed by an erratic aeroplane which kept flying low and disturbing them. It was nice to see a large flock of them take to the wing but not so sure about the continual disturbance by low flying planes! Plenty of orchids here too (spotted and fragrant) and a few more butterflies – holly and common blue plus a red admiral. Next stop was Kingsdown were the small blue colony lived but like all the other butterfly sites we had visited there were none. This is a wonderful site although it has come to the attention of wildlife groups who plan to “manage” it. Reading the management plan it seems the first thing they want to do is pull out the valerian which is one of the nicest parts about the little area and an important nectar source for insects – in particular the humming bird hawk moth which loves it. Then on the way home we called in at Samphire Hoe for a cup of tea only to find that they had closed! Before 4 o clock in June! We had planned a walk but as it was so windy decided to abort the visit and find the nearest pub for a drink and an early tea! A few hares around when we got home but there seem to have been less as we move through the week.

Friday 15th June

There was a terrific storm overnight with thunder, lightning and very heavy rain. Kept us awake and awoke this morning to find bits of oak tree (there is a very large one just behind the barn) scattered all over the car and lawn! However good weather today! We decided to do something different and just plan a walk somewhere – we chose to go to Dover and park at the white cliffs and then do the short 2 mile walk along the cliff top to the South Foreland lighthouse. Windy but we had some magnificent views over the channel and also had a bonus when we saw a spitfire flying around. It was accompanied by two helicopters which were full of people taking photos if the spitfire flying over the white cliffs. After a very nice piece of cake at Mrs Nott’s tea rooms we had a guided tour of the lighthouse and it was extremely interesting. We learned all about its history and the history of the area as well as lighthouses in general. To be recommended! Then it was the walk back with some stops to take in the landscape before another windy picnic on the cliff tops above the very busy harbour. Then a quick browse around the national trust shop before heading back to Acorn Barn to pack have tea and watch England in their second group game of Euro 2012.

Saturday 16th June

Home sadly. We have enjoyed our second stay at Acorn Barn and will be back. It is the only place we have returned to for a holiday (people always say never go back – it is never the same the second time but it has been as good as the first week we spent there). We called at Rye Meads on the way back home and although no kingfishers were seen (they were sitting on eggs) we did have the unexpected bonus of seeing a pair of green sandpipers. Then home and prepare for work the next day! All good things come to an end but it means our next break is that much closer – North Wales in July.
North Wales July 2012
24th June 2012 - 0 comments
In: Trips
Next trip planned for North Wales. Hope to see more sea birds (puffins etc) visit Ynys Hir, red kites and whatever else we can find! Maybe even see the top of Snowdon!!