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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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Lochdon, Mull 2013
01st August 2014 - 0 comments
In: Trips
TRIP TO MULL MAY 2013

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

Clearwing

Zebra Longwing

Common Postman

Great Eggfly

Great Tree Nymph

Indian Leafwing

Blue Banded Morpho

Great Mormon

Clipper

Images will be on the site during the next week or two
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.




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!!
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!!
Trip report from Northumberland
29th May 2012 - 0 comments
In: Trips
Northumberland May 2012

Saturday morning arrived – grey, dull, cold and slightly damp. Not a promising start for our week in Northumberland and to complete the poor start I pulled a muscle in my back! However we set off on the first part of our journey to Whittingham (near Alnwick) with a planned stop at the RSPB reserve at Saltholme. Needless to say with a temperature of around 9 degrees and a biting wind we did not stay too long here! We did however stay long enough to watch swallows flying low over the lake and stopping to take insects off the water or drink from it. A pair of avocets also arrived which was an unexpected surprise. So earlier than expected we set off for Morrisons at Alnwick to buy our provisions for the week. As we had been expecting cold and wet weather it was somewhat of a surprise when the sun appeared and the temperature rose (just slightly). It was an indication of things to come! Accommodation when we arrived at it (Bluebell Cottage) was lovely – everything we needed was there and it was in a lovely peaceful location in the middle of the countryside near the village of Whittingham. After a warm welcome we unloaded and relaxed for the evening with a glass of wine and nice meal! There was also a pair of swallows nesting outside the front door.

Sunday – what a weather change! Warm and sunny – we set off for Craster where we planned to walk to Dunstanburgh castle. With the car parked we set off through the village and onto the beach (rocks here mainly). Fantastic views of the castle from here and we had loads of fun exploring the rock pools where we found some shrimp although the colour suggested they may be prawns. Picnic on the beach in full sun and warm (not something we ever expected). Decided to walk back to the village where we explored the harbour and then left cameras in the car so we could get some refreshment in the Jolly Fisherman (lovely beer from the Mordue brewery based in North Shields) while watching the harbour. We also spotted some butterflies here (not in the pub!) on the grassy shoreline – wall brown and small copper. Also linnets in the gorse bushes which have an annoying habit of sitting at the top of bushes until you point a camera at them! From here we went to Embleton and walked from the golf club over the dunes to a fantastic beach (they all are in Northumberland!) and saw the castle at Dunstanburgh from the north side. This side is even better than the view from the other side as you get a cliff face to the left of the castle. More wall browns here in the dunes. As we had planned a trip to the Farne Islands we headed to Seahouses so we could check parking and our departure point. Back home for another lovely meal (and wine and beer!)

Monday – foggy start. Kielder today – we wanted to find red squirrels but as we were told they did not come to the feeding stations it was unlikely. Sadly this was true so the quest for red squirrels will continue another time. Weather was foggier until we arrived when the sun had burned off the low cloud and the day became warm and sunny. We concentrated around Leaplish Waterside Park and the viewing hide – no squirrels but plenty of birds. Unfortunately they were only chaffinches – all of them apart from a few siskins. After lunch we went to Kielder Castle where we at least managed to see a squirrel at a feeding station in the forest (via a webcam at an undisclosed location!). Then to Bakethin Nature reserve where we sat for half an hour and saw cormorants and a buzzard. Everywhere in Kielder we noticed that signage was noticeably absent so we struggled a few times to find places! Temperature now in the 20s and feeling pleasantly warm – also of note was the fact we drove 45 miles with not a petrol station in sight (apart from a village one at £1.55 a litre – we did not fill up there!). Home for another lovely meal.

Tuesday – sunny and warm again! Heading for Druridge Bay today which we hear is good for birds. We parked in the country park and walked into the nature reserve at East Chevington which has the noisiest bird hides in the world! All constructed of metal so when you open or close the doors (or windows) there was a loud clanging sound! Plenty of warblers all around plus linnets, swallows, herons and the usual water birds. Drove back to Hauxley Nature reserve which was brilliant. Wall browns again spotted as well as small copper butterflies – from the hides we saw oystercatcher and lapwing chicks. Then on to Amble and Alnmouth via Warkworth – a lovely town which deserved more exploring. We found a lovely pub in Alnmouth (Red Lion) which does amazing food (at least our bowls of homemade chips were). Home again to charge batteries and format memory cards as tomorrow is the highlight of the trip. We saw a hare loping down the drive in the evening after tea. Hope the weather stays warm and sunny for tomorrow!

Wednesday – weather warm and sunny with no wind! We set off for Seahouses full of anticipation. We had booked with Billy Shiels for his all day bird watching trip – mainly to get 2 hours on each of the islands (Inner Farne and Staple Island). Even if you are not particularly into wildlife this trip is fantastic for the sheer sight and sound of the sea birds. Thousands of puffins, guillemots, razorbills, terns and hundreds of seals. As well as the landing on each island (National Trust – there is a £6.20 charge for each if not a member) we got a trip around the islands to see the cliff nesting birds from the sea and good views of the seals. As far as photographic opportunities go this was heaven! Puffins with sand eels in their beaks flying past at a rate of 2 or 3 per minute (probably more) terns (arctic, common and sandwich) everywhere not to mention all the others (Kittiwakes also). Good value at £30 each for a trip lasting from 9:45 till nearly 5 pm. After such a lovely day we had to find out if the fish and chips in Seahouses was as good as it was supposed to be. It was!

Thursday – even warmer! Today was our day locally in Alnwick (although we did not go into the castle at the high price that was being charged) so we visited the market, had coffee in the market place, looked around the shops etc. It is a lovely little town with some individual shops. Later in the afternoon we visited Cragside (National Trust again) – this is a must if you are in Northumberland. A large estate which used to be home to Lord Armstrong and the house is full of his inventions. A large park also with some formal and some wild places. Then back to the house to collect our picnic for the beach at Embleton. We had planned to do this so we could see Dunstanburgh Castle at sunset. Sadly the weather didn’t know this and a veil of mist descended until the castle completely disappeared! Never mind – the beach was splendid anyway.

Friday – why does a week always go so fast when you are on holiday! Day for Lindisfarne today. Warm (even hot) and sunny again. Having already checked the tide tables we knew that the causeway opened at 9:05 today so we planned to arrive as soon afterwards to see could maximise out rime on the island. Driving over the causeway was a delight – golden sand on both sides until we got to the nature reserve when we had beach on one side and nature reserve on the other. A small flock of plover were on the beach. On to Holy Island and we parked in the large car park (there is a shuttle bus to the castle which is about a mile walk). As the weather was so nice we decided to walk and got some lovely views of the castle and the harbour. We then did the marked walk around the nature reserve – lots of warblers, a pied wagtail nest in the hide and lots of northern marsh orchids. Also some more wall browns! Lovely to see them as they are so rare back home in Derbyshire! As this was the last evening we drove down the coast taking in the castle at Bamburgh, the village of Beadnell and finally finding a lovely pub for tea in Embleton – The Greys Inn. Fantastic food (huge portions) friendly staff and good beer. What better way to round off a fantastic week than sitting in a warm and sunny beer garden with good friends enjoying a great meal. An added bonus was that we walked to the beach after tea and found the castle (Dunstanburgh) bathed in warm evening sunlight.

That’s it – off home tomorrow but have to say the week in Northumberland has been a fantastic experience.
Barn Owl Centre
01st December 2011 - 0 comments
In: Trips
The Barn Owl Centre is a great natural venue to photograph Owls & Birds of Prey in wild environments - this is what the website states and it is very true.

It is the most wonderful setting and we were lucky enough to have chosen a day when (although misty earlier) the sun shone brightly and it was warm enough for shirt sleeves (end October 2011)

We were met by Vince, our host for the day. A more genial host would be hard to find as from the start his laid back and happy demeanour set the tone - it was a very relaxed and happy day!

As I said - a most wonderful setting - all natural with plenty of "weeds"! Really loads of wild flowers and for photographers it is a dream setting with logs and gates, fence posts and trees for the birds to perch. Not forgetting the haystack where the barn owl was positioned.

Mind you flight shots of the buzzard and eagle owl were very difficult - makes you appreciate the skills of a talanted photographer (which I am trying very hard to be!!).

5 hours seemed to fly by (pun intended!) - all used taking photographs apart from a short break for lunch. I did find that my 500mm lens was too long really but luckily I also had taken the 300mm so was able to get some shots without wings clipped!

We also must not forget the sterling work that they do for birds of prey, be it conservation and preservation of habitats and species or their care of rescued birds.

What a fantastic day and a huge thanks to Vince and all his staff for making us so welcome and providing a fantastic day. We will be back.
Mull October 2011
10th October 2011 - 0 comments
In: Trips
Friday 30th September

With the rest of the country baking in temperatures of 28 degrees it was time for us to head off to Mull for the second time this year. It seemed a pity to leave the nice late summer weather behind but as we travelled up the M6 we found that the sun followed us and our day at Leighton Moss RSPB reserve turned out to be very hot and sunny.
Highlight of the day was the sight of two Marsh Harriers fairly close and two swans who kept chasing each other around the lake.
After this break of a few hours we set off once again for the second part of our journey – this stage would take us to Glasgow and our Travelodge in Braehead. We were ready for tea and we were looking forward to visiting Wetherspoons as it is always good value for both food and drink.

Saturday 1st October

Not such an early start today so that we can recover from our 5 o’clock morning yesterday and we were ready for the final part of our trip to Mull – this began with a lovely breakfast (Wetherspoons again!) and a wet drive along the banks of Loch Lomond. We saw the start of the England v Scotland World Cup rugby match but had to listen to snippets on the radio during our journey. On arrival in Oban the rain stopped and it became a warm but still overcast day. Shopping in Tesco – a quick fill of petrol (expensive this time) and then on to the ferry to Mull which departed on time at 2pm. The weather even allowed for some photographs on the journey over to Craignure. Sighting the Lismore light is always exciting for me as it signifies that we are nearly on Mull.
After disembarking we had some time to spare and so we stopped en route in Salen to see our favourite old boats (still there but looking a little dull this time). There was also some bird life around including some oystercatchers a curlew and a heron.
We then travelled onwards from there to our holiday accommodation along a very good road for Mull (Aros to Dervaig) and arrival at Bruach Roineach at 16:30. We had a wonderfully warm and friendly welcome from our hosts Joan and Ian and a quick tour of our holiday cottage for the next week.
After unpacking we decided to take a walk down to Calgary Bay as it looked like it should be a nice sunset. We were not disappointed even though it looked at one stage as if it would just fizzle out into grey sky. We had just decided to walk home when the sky turned red! We stayed for another half hour and saw the most fantastic sunset – hope the pictures do it justice!
We then walked home to the sound of tawny owls in the woods and a well-earned dinner! Early to bed and rest after a lovely and interesting day.

Sunday 2nd October

A dull start to the day but we had decided to take it easy anyway so had a nice relaxing breakfast and coffee while the weather brightened. Amazingly the day was fantastic – sunny, bright, and warm and virtually no wind. Two consecutive days on Mull without rain must be some sort of record!
We decided to walk down the lane at the side of the house which wound its way for 3 miles to the shoreline and Caliach Point. From here you can The Small Isles (or Inner Hebrides) – these being the islands of Canna, Rhum, Eigg, Muck and one of the last manned lighthouses in the UK called Oigh Sgeir. Beyond the islands of Coll and Tiree in the West lies the Atlantic separated only by the Hebrides or Western Isles a chain of islands some 40 Nautical Miles away. After a brief detour to see if we could get to the sea we walked through a small herd of highland cattle and found a nice little rocky inlet where we could stop for a picnic. We also saw one of the first Brent Geese to arrive on Mull and some Rock Pipits.
Still sunny we walked back to the cottage and arrived back for a drink and rest – looked at our photos and waited for the sunset. Well after such a lovely day it was bound to be good wasn’t it! Wrong – after waiting for around 20 minutes the sunset fizzled out into dull grey clouds and it began to drizzle – welcome back to Mull weather!
A quick drive back to Bruach Roineach for another lovely tea and a relaxing evening. Tomorrow we are off to Craignure to meet Pete Hall of Mull Wildlife Tours for our holiday highlight which is a day out finding local wildlife. We are hoping for mountain hare, eagles, otters and deer as it is the start of the rutting season.

Monday 3rd October

What a change in the weather! Monday dawned dull and very very windy but we set out for our meeting point at Craignure never the less. It was not actually cold and not raining – yet! We parked and had a coffee while waiting for Pete to arrive (we were early). After the introductions and loading the gear into the vehicle we set off north to Craignure to see what we could find. Almost immediately we saw an otter just offshore – then it began to rain. And the wind increased in strength. Oh yes and it got dark! We saw the otter for a little while longer and then it disappeared, maybe sensing our presence though how in the wind and rain I shall never know!
We searched the hill tops for deer (there were some) and eagles (there were none) and then moved a little further and took the road to Loch Na Keal (where we saw our first otter back in May). Not so lucky today so we turned around and turned off towards the south side of the loch. This looked a really promising bit of coast line but in the rain and wind there was not much around. After a lovely lunch break we continued around Ben More amongst some wonderful scenery with some amazing waterfalls towards Loch Scridain. We did see a white tailed sea eagle sat in a tree which took off and flew around us (sadly out of camera range) which was lovely to see and then along the loch side we spotted two more otters one of which came close enough to the shore for some good views.
All too soon we were on our way back to Craignure to say good bye after a very enjoyable day.
Tomorrow we have booked for the RSPB eagle hide at 10 and we are all looking forward to that.

Tuesday 4th October

Got the wrong end of Loch Frisa! Arrived at the northern end as the leaflet said and called the RSPB warden Debbie to check we were in the right place but she was not available. When we finally did get through to her we had come to the wrong place. Never mind – we had to rebook for Wednesday at 10 and this time to go to the Aros end of the loch. So we decided to go to Tobermory instead and had a coffee in the Chocolate Shop and after a little walk and browse in the shops we drove south to Salen. Stopped and walked back up the coast towards Aros pausing for another lovely picnic on the shores of the Sound of Mull. Wildlfe all around us – we saw rock pipits, curlews, oystercatchers, seals and an otter (not within easy sight but there never the less). Another highlight was a dolphin jumping right out of the water just off shore.
We then drove along the road that passed along the shores of Loch Na Keal and tried to find our otter. Sure enough after spotting a seal playing close to the shore the otter appeared on his island – sadly briefly but a nice sighting all the same. Plenty of curlews, oystercatchers and also some highland cattle which we photographed thinking they were behind a fence – they then just walked onto the road (there was no fence) and we struggled to get past in the car!
On the drive back to Bruach Roineach we did see some deer on top of a hill and a golden eagle gliding along the top of the ridge. Back for another very nice tea and a relaxing evening thinking of our trip to the eagle hide.

Wednesday 5th October

Weather wise this was the worst day of the week so far. Very windy and rainy – so much so that when we got to the Eagle watch meeting point we were informed that as there was nothing to see our meeting was being cancelled. Disappointed we decided to drive to Craignure, have a coffee and get some information about indoor places. It was still windy and wet so we headed home via Loch Na Keal with the intention of waiting for the weather to change (ever the optimist!). The drive along the west cost of Mull around the Killiechronan campsite and then past Ulva Ferry to Calgary has to be the most beautiful drive in Mull if not the entire UK. Weather started to dry up, then it rained again and then it dried up. Still windy but at least you could see something. Stopped for our picnic at Ulva Ferry and watched the waves of rain coming in and the waterfall at Eos Force which was spectacular in the distance. Then continued the drive along the coast and over the top towards Calgary and encountered buzzards (lots), hooded crows (seemed like millions!) and some lovely looking rams with curly horns. We also found a hen harrier which flow up from beside the road and there were also lots of kestrels around.
Back to the cottage early today as the weather was so wet but it dried up and there was a nice clear sky for a possible Calgary Bay sunset. Spent some time experimenting with filters to see what the different effects were and came back with a collection of different landscape, seascape and skyscape shots to play with.
Tomorrow we plan to get to Grasspoint near Loch Don and hopefully the wind will have calmed down and the rain dried up.

Thursday 6th October

No it hasn’t! Still very windy and wet but undeterred we set out to drive back along Loch na Keal but this time we drove south from Calgary. The road was much easier this way as most of it was downhill. It is still a fantastic road to travel along – wild moorland and mountains on one side with the crashing sea on the other. A little further on we found a buzzard sat on the post – and even when we stopped the car it didn’t fly away! No doors were opened just the window wound down and cameras poked out. Best ever view of a buzzard. Continuing further we reached our otter place but no otter in sight today. There were two white tailed sea eagles sat on a spit of land jutting into the loch looking just like turkeys! Too far for a picture but it was lovely to see them – then one of then took off and we were treated to the sight of an eagle flying over the loch.
Plenty of curlews in a field near the head of the loch (15 in total) but as soon as you try to get out of the car they all fly away. They are easily spooked.
Joining the main road we turned towards Craignure and the south – plan was to get to Grasspoint but the weather intervened again and as the sky was black and full of rain in all directions we turned around and stopped for a picnic in the car park of Duart Castle. The castle looked very menacing in the stormy weather and the mainland opposite vanished while we ate.
No drier after lunch so we decided to drive back to Calgary via Salen to see what was about (nothing) and then back towards home via Aros Bridge. Another nice drive as you travel over high moorland before dropping down into Dervaig before turning left for home. We stopped for some meadow pipits in a lovely setting and then passed the cottage as we went to the tearoom at Calgary for a cup of tea and then walked along the Art in Nature sculpture exhibition towards the beach. We then we walked alongside the bay and ended up at Calgary Pier – lovely old pier made with what appeared to be pink granite blocks.
Back home and then the sky said look at me it is going to be a wonderful sunset! So we dashed to the beach but sadly it rather fizzled out. Never mind there is always tomorrow.

Friday 7th October

Strange object in the sky this morning – round and yellow and we think it might be the sun! No wind, no rain and pleasantly mild. The plan today was to drive to a place called Croig just along the coast towards Dervaig. Off we went and shortly arrived to park at the little harbour still in the sunshine! Cameras and picnic bags at the ready we set off down the river watching herons and curlews – the curlew has a very distinctive cry and it was lovely to hear them. We found a spot to cross the estuary and spent the next 3 hours wandering around. Lots of fungi to be seen and we spotted herons curlews and some rock pipits. Then arriving at a channel between the mainland and a small offshore island we were spotted by some inquisitive seals. They are lovely graceful animals and kept popping their heads up to see what we were doing. We could have spent a long time watching them (or were they watching us?). Then on to the next beach where we saw a snow bunting – a first for us and it was lovely to see it – quite a colourful bird. It was reasonably tolerant of us also which was good allowing us a good view of it.
Then we found a wonderful white sandy beach to have our picnic – what a setting! A lovely Hebridean sky, beach and sea to look at while eating our lunch. A few photos later we headed back towards the car and Croig where we had a look around the lobster pots and then back in the car. Well timed as the heavens opened as soon as we got back to the cottage.
After a cup of tea we walked down the road to Calgary Art in Nature again as we had seen some very photogenic fungi and also found a little boathouse (literally a house with a boat for a roof) with a lovely reflection.
Back home again for some packing and then back to the beach for our last sunset. Not too bad but nothing like the first night when the sky went red!
Then back for further packing and a final lovely tea before settling down for the evening. Tomorrow it is time to catch the ferry to Oban and then home.
During the evening we could hear the stags roaring on the hills and the tawny owl was audible again now that the wind had finally died away.
Saturday 8th October
We woke early this morning to be greeted by rain and low cloud. No problem today as we are sadly on our way home. Once the car was packed we set off towards Craignure in the gloom – however the Red Deer had decided to come out to play and we saw quite a few on the way top the ferry including one magnificent stag who decided to walk across the road in front of us.
Breakfast in Craignure and a quick browse around the tourist information office and then it was time to wave Mull goodbye again and aboard the ferry. Calm crossing to Oban but we did spot some dolphins which was lovely.
Rain in Oban ended the holiday as it had begun but we were left with some wonderfully happy memories of another week on magical Mull.






Somerset Holiday May 2011
04th June 2011 - 0 comments
In: Trips
Somerset May 2011

Saturday – car packed and off we went to Somerset leaving an hour early so we could take our time. Destination was a holiday cottage near Shepton Mallet (Elevenscroft) and arrival planned for around 12:30 ish. The weather was not too promising with showers and wind but traffic light – or it was until we got onto the M5 near Bristol. It took us two hours to get near Bristol (130 miles) and a further two hours to travel the 37 miles to our destination. Not sure why we chose to travel on a bank holiday weekend – or even why we were going on holiday. Probably only having to take 4 days holiday was part of it!
So we ended up arriving on time when we should have been early! Friendly welcome from the owner and then we were left to unpack the car and settle in. Cup of coffee and then off to the local Tesco to stock up for the week. Rain and then more rain as we walked down the main street in Shepton Mallet and had a sandwich in a little coffee shop.
This was supposed to be a butterfly holiday and we were planning to visit a local site but the weather meant that we had to shelve that idea and settled back into our cottage. Outside the kitchen window the owners had thoughtfully place 4 bird feeders in a tree so the window was opened and camera set up on a tripod – fantastic kitchen hide! Bird species seen (from the kitchen window) were blackbird (pair), blue tit, great tit, greater spotted woodpecker, nuthatch, chaffinch, jay, magpie, robin.



Evening spent watching a fantastic team (Barcelona) win the champions League!

Sunday - despite the forecast not being too good was sunny (or bright at least!) but not warm enough for butterflies yet so we made a decision to visit RSPB Westhay and had a wonderful walk along the volunteer constructed boardwalk surrounded by the sound of warblers of all sorts – will have to learn the songs for identification as we heard but could not see many. They pop out for the briefest of seconds before disappearing back into the reeds. Not much to see from the hide (we would have liked to see the storks)



From Westhay we travelled a few miles towards Shapwick Heath where we found the Avalon Marsh Visitors Centre where we had a hot drink and a wander around. We ended up making a bird box as they had an activity day there! Then we had a wander along through Shapwick Heath Nature Reserve and had our lunch in a hide watching swans and grebes. We spotted a Hobby on our way back to the car and also passed the Sweet Track carefully preserved under the peat (there is a replica of part of it in the Peat Centre). Then the sun came out and magically so did the dragonflies and butterflies (common blue and meadow brown) along with the most fantastic chorus of marsh frogs.
After a visit to Glastonbury Tor (and yes we did walk to the top – 512 feet in total) with fantastic views over three counties we returned home for another lovely tea watching the woodpecker and nuthatch on the garden feeders.

Monday – forecast said heavy rain all day but when we opened the curtains we were greeted by fog! Then it did rain after breakfast – clearly no butterflies today either! There was a pair of greenfinches on the feeders along with a wren and sparrow. Not good for bird watching so we decided to head to Weston Super Mare for some seaside therapy! Rain eased a little so we walked along the front and to the new Grand Pier – really good on a wet bank holiday! Nice (covered) walk and then games and rides at the end. Spent a couple of fun hours in there! Walked back to the tourist information office and picked up a leaflet for a cider shop and museum so off we went there. Bought some gifts to take home and sat in a pub car park for lunch. Decided to visit Wells in the afternoon as it was still raining – good decision as Wells is a lovely city (the smallest in England) and only one smaller in the UK (St David’s in Wales). Spent a long time in the wonderful cathedral (you can take photos but have to buy a permit for £3 – well worth buying) and when we came out of the cathedral the sun was out and it turned into a lovely warm afternoon. However tea beckoned so we went back to the cottage to make our plans for the following day – weather is forecast to get better each day through the week so high hopes of butterflies tomorrow.

Tuesday arrived with sunshine! We set off for Priddy Mineries with the UK Butterflies locations in our Tom Tom and duly arrived at the location – this appeared to be a random spot along the main road! No parking so we asked a garage if it was ok to leave the car in the layby opposite his garage. Finding a footpath which looked like it went in the right direction we marched up to where we thought the Mineries were, and we must have found them as we met two ladies who confirmed this. They too were looking for butterflies so we exchanged species! Lots of small pearl bordered fritillaries, common blues, small coppers, small heaths and in areas with lots of flowers we saw good numbers of butterflies including the aforementioned species along with orange tip, red admiral, painted lady, large skipper, speckled wood, green veined white, large white (first of the year for us) and green hairstreak. The ladies told us of a Forestry Commission car park so we walked back down a wider track to the main road and car and relocated to the Forestry Commission car park for lunch. Walking along the forest tracks afterwards we found a lot more small pearl bordered fritillaries, common blues, small heaths, green hairstreaks, small coppers and large skippers. We also chatted to a man who had been photographing dragonflies near a large pond. A lovely day in sunshine and warmth.



Wednesday was a day which started with sunshine so we went towards Ubley Warren and found it just as the sun went behind the clouds! So with no sun and no butterflies and a cold wind blowing we drove to Westhay Moor RSPB site to find sunshine! A we were there anyway we visited all the hides (having lunch in one of them) and saw a few mallards and a swan family. We did hear a bittern booming but all the birds seemed to have vanished! As it was sunny we decided to go back to Ubley Warren just to find the sun disappeared as we started our walk. I then tweaked a calf muscle so that was the end of Wednesday! Back to the cottage and plenty of TLC for my muscle and early to sleep! Thursday is supposed to be sunny and warm and we plan to try and find some Wood Whites.

Thursday - we managed to find some directions to Staple Common where Wood Whites had been seen this year. We found the location from the Butterfly Walks of Somerset book and indeed the Forestry Commission sign said Staple Common. However no wood whites – we met a farmer looking for his cattle who confusingly told us that is was not Staple Common at all and we needed to be in a car park at Staple Hill! Needless to say we saw none there either so we ended up at Buckland Wood – a lovely place with loads of butterflies. Many common blues but also brimstone, speckled wood, red admiral, dingy skipper, brown argus, large skipper, meadow brown, green hairstreak – the marsh fritillary must have already finished as were grizzled skippers but it is a lovely place to visit. Ended the day in Taunton and as it was later than usual had a nice meal at the local Wetherspoon!

Friday is the last day and as there was a great forecast we set off to Collard Hill for Large Blues. Maybe better luck than today with the Wood Whites! Yes – spent a wonderful few hours in full sun with Sussex Kipper, Bill from Wales and then met Matthew Oates! Large blues a success and got some cracking shots but no open wing shots as the sun was too strong!



After baking on the hillside we went to Street for a coffee at Wetherspoons and then ended up at Clarks shopping village before going back to Priddy Minories where the small pearl bordered fritillaries would not shut their wings (wanted an underwing shot) but saw several (even at 7 it was still 25 degrees!). Also small copper, small heath, common blue, brown argus, large skipper and dark green fritillary.
A fantastic trip to Mull - you must read this!
01st June 2011 - 0 comments
In: Trips
Mull in May 2011

Thursday night all packed up and ready to go – great excitement as on Friday morning we are off to the North for our holiday on Mull. Bags and cameras are near the front door ready for a quick getaway – the plan is for us all to meet at Leighton Moss RSPB reserve near Carnforth at around 10, spend a few hours there and then travel to Glasgow for our overnight stay on Friday. This means that on Saturday morning we only have another 90 miles to travel to Oban for the 2 o’clock ferry.

So Friday arrives and the weather is dry and bright – even sunny at times! Packed the car in 15 minutes and got away by 7 am – on course for 10am rendezvous. Uneventful journey and arrived full of anticipation for what we might see as Leighton Moss is known for marsh harriers. So we visited the hides in order - our friends Kath & Ken saw a blackbird with a partially white face – known well to the staff! Walking along the paths between hides we saw a shrew, a “woolly bear” (not seen often anymore), some unidentified warblers, a coal tit, some garganey and when we had trekked the distance to the last hide we saw the highlight of the day – two pairs of marsh harriers. One came within a hundred feet from us in the hide which enabled some better than usual pictures.

On the way back to the car we called in at the black headed gull hide (public hide) where there were hundreds of gulls making more gulls! Also saw some great crested and little grebes. Very close pictures – and the yellow flags at the water’s edge were beautiful. Near the visitor centre were loads of tadpoles – first we had seen this year.
So that was Leighton Moss done – oh we also spoke to a man who had seen an otter that morning which was one of our main targets on Mull. Little did we know what was to happen the next day!

So on to Glasgow and a hotel which was newly built on roads that Tom Tom didn’t know existed. A few minutes of confusion reigned and then to the pub for tea. Wetherspoons is a great place for good quality reasonably priced food and drink!

After a good night’s sleep we ended up at Wetherspoons again for breakfast and then a drive to Oban – the best part of the drive so far in beautiful scenery and sunshine. An arrival at 11:30 gave us time for shopping, a walk around the town, some gorgeous prawn and crab sandwiches and then joined the queue for the Isle of Mull ferry called “The Isle of Mull”! It was late but that may have been Lady Luck looking after us as on the drive to our holiday home we came around a bend at the lock side (Loch Na Keal) and saw a crowd of people (or what passes for a crowd on Mull – half a dozen or so). Car came to an abrupt halt and we quickly ascertained that they were looking at an otter within camera distance eating a fish!

All thought of our destination went out of the window as we spent a very enjoyable hour or so taking photos. Inevitably the otter finally disappeared after bringing a crab back to its island and treating us to great views of an otters dinner!
So that meant we travelled on – seeing a heron, a waterfall, loads of highland cows including one in the middle of the road and sheep everywhere. Eventually arriving quite a bit later than planned to a host of rabbits of all sizes but we were all very happy. Car unloaded, dinner on the table and we all relaxed into the evening with a glass or two of wine.

Sunday dawned wet, overcast and a little chilly but undeterred we set off for Tobermory along one of Mulls B roads. Not like a mainland B road at all! Windy, hilly pot holey, narrow but fortunately lots of passing places – seemed to take ages to do 20 odd miles!! However we arrived and parked (free) – found a chocolate shop selling very nice coffee and with complimentary internet access. Then the rain stopped for a while so we fetched cameras and took pictures of the famous coloured houses of Tobermory and its harbour. Unfortunately it probably makes a better photo with the tide in!

We then left Tobermory behind and stopped for a picnic overlooking the Sound of Mull – in the rain of course! Then onwards to Salen but just before arrival we saw some large birds which turned out to be buzzards but we were convinced they were eagles. We stopped along the coast near Salen to look at some seals and then spotted some eider duck swimming just offshore. Lovely calm water and the birds came quite close giving us some good views.

Travelling back along the shores of Loch Na Keal we stopped near the otter and sure enough he was there again – however it started to pour with rain and the otter vanished so we went home and had tea!

Tomorrow (Monday) we are off for a day out with Bryan Rains (Wild About Mull) so hoping that the rain stops for long enough to enjoy some dry photography opportunities. We are hoping to see eagles (golden and white tailed) and more otters, along with anything else that moves! Oh - and the sun!

Monday. Wet. Not sunny. Cold. TomTom told us which way to go to get to Wild About Mull so we followed – what a road! Narrow, full of pot holes and water. An early start – up at 5:15 and out at 6 o’clock for our 30 minute journey. Two hours later we arrived to find Bryan waiting for us so we loaded all the gear into the back of his van and headed off to see our first target of the day – otters. After searching for a short while one was located swimming along the shore line so we followed it on foot and then in the van till it came closer – we got some great views and best shots of otter so far. A great start, cameras and people soaked but happy to see an otter. Also on the same shoreline was a great northern diver along with whimbrel and curlew.

Then onwards to a white tailed eagles nest which we saw through a scope – it was looking directly at us through the mist. The mist and cloud and rain was a feature of the day but it did not dampen the spirits at all! Next we drove back to Pennyghael for a warm in the store, a hot drink and a wee stop. Along the way we saw little plover, oystercatcher and others. Then to the adders – however despite Bryans best efforts we were unsuccessful so we had lunch instead. After lunch we moved on towards Fionnphort and a search for mountain hare – by now we were all suffering from cold and wet but undeterred we marched across the machair looking for them. Success eventually as we saw one dart over a small hillock and disappear. Wonderful!

Stopped on the way back at a small beach to see what was around – surprising what you can see even on a wet day if you stop long enough. All in all a very enjoyable day in great company – thank you Bryan and Wild About Mull.

Tuesday arrived dry, bright and yes I think we saw some sunshine! Even a few patches of blue sky among the grey. We had a plan to head back down the shores of Loch Na Keal towards Salen and then to Craignure to see what we could find on the loch and the sea shore. However we got as far as the otter stopping place to find a crowd all staring at the forest near the hill top. When asked what they were looking at we were told it was a white tailed eagle sat in a tree top. A kind gentleman offered us a look through his scope at the bird sat in the tree – waiting for the boat to come along which fed them with fish. So we waited a while and sure enough the boat arrived and the eagle set off for it hotly pursued along its way by a buzzard – we always thought that buzzards were big until we saw one at the same time as the eagle!

We could see the eagle within metres of the boat and it came back with a fish in its talons to its nest – the nest was behind the trees so we guess it must have left the fish with its partner and chicks at the nest and then returned for another one. In total three so we got some fantastic views of it. Great start to the day – and it was still not raining!

We then set off towards Salen and then to Craignure but stopped at Fishnish as we thought it was a little seaside village – wrong! It was just a ferry terminal and a small building selling hot drinks and snacks. The Forestry Commission had very kindly placed some picnic tables so we made use of one of them for yet another wonderful picnic. After lunch we explored the beach area but as there was not much about we drove to Salen where we had seen the eider ducks a few days previously. They were not there but we had noticed a couple of wrecked boats which we thought would make good photographic material so this filled the afternoon up until it was time to go home. The weather started to change for the worse – back to the usual Mull grey and rain but we did make a visit to Ulva Ferry to check it out ahead of our white tailed eagle boat trip which we had booked for Friday. Along the road back we did spot a golden eagle soaring over the fields at the side of the road. Another holiday highlight. So back home for another wonderful meal – the weather turned very nasty then with nothing to be seen at all through the windows.

Wednesday. Guess what – rain again! But this time with a very strong wind. Plan was to visit Loch Frisa and then Glengorm so we set off up the coast along a narrow and windy (aren’t they all) road towards Calgary and Dervaig. This time however unlike Sunday the rain stopped and it was sunny (but still windy) so we could see into the distance as well as the moors around us. No mountain hares or eagles here though so stopped at Calgary Bay and got out of the car for a walk along the beach and some rock pooling while the rain held off. Saw some lovely sea anemones including a green one which I had never seen before. Then we got soaked! We found a coffee shop and dried out and warmed up a little afterwards.

Onward then towards Loch Frisa – however the road looked bad from the beginning (most of the roads on Mull look great for a hundred yards and then get bad) so we decided to miss this one and instead turn towards Glengorm – gets a good write up in the Mull information so we thought it would be a good place to visit. The road was even worse than the one to Loch Frisa – this time there was even a sign saying temporary road surface for miles – no mention of how many! It now holds the record for most pot holes on the island! And Glengorm was definitely overstated in the information! Got soaked again – this time with hail! However the coffee shop was warm and the coffee was nice (and even good prices). I think if the weather had been dry it would be a very nice place to spend more time there – standing stones, an old fort and also a natural bathing pool would have made great pictures. There is also a colony of marsh fritillaries there and lots of walking to be done, along with the castle itself (although not really a castle but a hotel) and its gardens.

We then decided to make our way home but stopped in Tobermory for some provisions and as the sun was shining decided to have a little walk around the harbour. So of course it rained again – however this time we fooled it as had not even got out of the car! The road from there passes down a hill near Loch Frisa so we half expected to see eagles but instead there was a buzzard. We attempted some shots but they were too far away and it was too windy and dark. Towards Salen the tide was in and the shoreline would have been a great place to explore but the next wave of showers were on the way so we came back along the road to Ulva ferry and home. Through a torrential downpour, some brilliant sunshine and then more rain. Tide was in so no otter today – time another day for otter spotting. Some things we will have to leave until we return in October – Calgary sunset being one of them. Let’s see what tomorrow brings!

Well we didn’t wait until tomorrow! After another lovely tea we decided to see if we could get to the shore as it looked so inviting. We eventually managed to get through a gate and down to an area of machair which we found a path through to the edge of the small cliff which overhung the shore line. A couple of oystercatchers, a heron and a curlew later we turned around and came back to the house. Oh – and a sunset which was our first of the week. We all said that we must return in the morning, weather permitting. On the way back to the house we saw another golden eagle flying over the hills behind the house – however it was getting darker and it was too far away so no photos. Still – time yet for that!

Thursday already! Decided to head back along Loch Na Keal to see the eagle flying over to the boat but stopped at our waterfall to take some pictures. Fantastic waterfall and with all the rain we had been having the stream was very full and plenty of water going over the fall. We went as close to the cliff edge as we dared to get a photo and then some more walking upstream. Someone was camping in a sheltered flat area at the side if the upper waterfall – what a spot for a tent! Very noisy with the rushing water but very idyllic also. Then on to Loch Na Keal for the eagle feeding – good views in its favourite perch and then the boat arrived for four feeding trips. However the wind was very strong and was blowing the camera and lenses around so no good pictures today! But just to see it was awesome – we were also able to see it catch the fish that was thrown from the boat. Then we travelled a little further and stopped near a campsite to have a wander around on the shore but nothing very interesting. Back home again and had a wander up the hill to find the ruined village before heading back for tea. Sadly we then discovered that our trip on the boat that feeds the sea eagle was cancelled as very strong winds were forecast. We all felt very disappointed and a little flat.
After some thought we came up with plan B for Friday – we would go on a boat trip but just over the water to Ulva on a foot ferry. Good walking was to be had on the island and the weather looked promising – seemed odd that the boat wasn’t able to go out but when we arrived the ferryman said that around the corner it was very rough and windy – we could see the white horses.

We walked over to the west side of the island to see some fantastic views over towards Staffa, Dutchmans Cap and Lunga along with the rest of the Treshnish Isles – abandoned villages, soaring hills and cliffs, hawks and loads of delicate flowers – butterwort in particular was plentiful. The views themselves are well worth the walk and Ulva is a very special place, like lots of the other Scottish islands – if you ever come to Mull you must make time to visit Ulva. For once the rain held off and we were treated to blue skies and sunshine but with a very strong wind, we even managed a picnic outside of a car! Even butterflies! We then got on the ferry for the short (2 minute) trip back to the mainland and drove the few miles back to the Old Steading where we packed and made ready to depart. I then decided to walk over to Ballygown beach just so that I had seen it – walked over the little headland full of bogs and wild flowers to find otter spraint all over the place – no otter though but he obviously visits on a regular basis. There were oystercatchers, gulls of all sorts, a common sandpiper, curlew and a black rabbit!

I had to shelter in a cave while a rain storm blew over but then walked back to the house to see a sea eagle swoop over the house. It flew off fairly quickly but we did see it several times during tea in the distance – nothing like last night or this morning though.

Then after tea while putting the left over bread out for our local sparrows we spotted some deer just over the road so managed to take a few quick shots until a car arrived to send them packing.

So that’s it! All over bar the ferry and the journey home – bit sad but had a really lovely week on the most wonderful of islands. Can’t wait to return to magical Mull in October, only wish it could be sooner!

This report can be downloaded here http://www.gfcphotography.co.uk/files/16220/mull2011.doc
Isle of Wight Weekend
04th May 2011 - 0 comments
In: Trips
Just back from a lovely relaxing weekend on the Isle of Wight with friends. We love the island - I always think that it is like a miniature England. It has most of the elements that make England great but in a smaller area.

It is a friendly island with none of the rush of the mainland (and certainly not the traffic or people!) The wildlife is plentiful as are stunning scenery and landscapes along with some great beaches, walking, pubs and food.

I will be putting a selection of photos from the weekend on the web site shortly.

RSPB Bempton Cliffs
25th April 2011 - 0 comments
In: Trips
We set out last Monday (yes I know it was a Bank Holiday! but we braved the traffic and in fact there were no problems) for the RSPB reserve at Bempton Cliffs near Bridlington in Yorkshire.

It was a sunny day but slightly cooler than it had been previously (Still good for April though) and a bit breezy. Headed for the cliff top after a coffee from Katy Wheelwrights excellent ECO Catering (Ethical Catering Outdoors)van which was situated in the reserve car park.

Link to the RSPB site here http://www.rspb.org.uk/reserves/guide/b/bemptoncliffs/index.aspx and probably the best shot of the day here http://www.gfcphotography.co.uk/photo9687598.html

It was quite a challenging day for photography as the wind was quite breezy and the light quite harsh which meant that any Gannet photos were in danger of having blown highlights!

There were thousands of Gannets - some interesting behaviour also with some taking nesting material from some of the grass and several courting pairs. Not too many Puffins at present (although we did see a few) but also lots of Razorbills, Guillemots, Fulmars and Kittiwakes.

A thoroughly enjoyable day!
Hardwick Hall
16th April 2011 - 0 comments
In: Trips
Had a fantastic day with friends out at Hardwick Hall - link here to the National Trust website page for this property - http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/main/w-hardwickhall

We parked in the car park next to the Hall and walked down to the lakes past the fishing ponds to see what wildlife was around. Surprised to find quite a lot and maybe we should have been there before!

What looked like a young greenfinch was hopping around on the woodland floor eating grass and leaves - eventually flew/hopped out of site but managed to get some shots of it first. Then we found a pair of Great Crested Grebes on one of the lakes with 3 young (are they grebelings?) and I have posted my best shot of the day in the birds gallery http://www.gfcphotography.co.uk/photo9499166.html

Hardwick Hall is one of the most splendid houses in England. It was built by Bess of Hardwick in the 1590s and has her ES in stone at the top of the hall. It has remained unaltered since but with its huge windows and high ceilings it feels very modern. Its six towers make a dramatic skyline and climbing through the house from one floor to the next it is a thrilling architectural experience. The rooms contain rich tapestries, plaster friezes and alabaster fireplaces and the highlight is the hauntingly atmospheric Long Gallery.

There is also a Stone Centre - you can explore the old ruins and there is a wonderful tea room and restaurant.

The parkland as we discovered is amazing - you can park at the bottom of the hill rather than have to (as we did) climb back to the top of the hill at the end of the day.
Water Voles of the Cromford Canal
05th April 2011 - 0 comments
In: Trips
We spent a fantastic day out on Sunday along the Cromford Canal where we know that Water Voles (Arvicola amphibius) live - we saw many last year in the Autumn.

So when the day dawned with bright sunshine and a good forecast we set off for Ambergate train station car park. A quick walk along the busy A6 found us at the start of the Canal where we walked towards Cromford looking out for the voles along the way.

This area is one of the last remaining strongholds in Derbyshire for the water vole. Water voles are animals which have diminished very rapidly in the county, as they have elsewhere in Britain. This is largely down to two things - the destruction of its habitat and predation by mink. Derbyshire Wildlife Trust has put many observation traps along this canal so that they can watch for the presence of mink - this is helping towards conserving and protecting the voles.

Water voles are widespread around Europe and live in the banks of slow moving rivers, streams and canals. They make waterside burrows which have many floor levels that help to prevent flooding, as well as nesting chambers and a food store for winter. Water voles are a meal for many predators but the UK population suffered a catastrophic level of predation by the American mink.

Water voles are quite often mistaken for rats and in fact Ratty from The Wind in the Willows was actually a water vole.

It wasn't long before we saw our first vole was happily munching on a reed on the opposite bank of the canal. We watched it for several minutes and then it swam across the canal to our side where it sat for a second before disappearing under the water and back across to the other bank!

We saw probably 8 or 9 during the day with the best sighting at the canal bridge at Whatstandwell train station where unusually we found a vole eating greenery but not reeds. Not sure of the plant but you can see the remains of a leaf in one of the photographs!

All in all a very good day

Update to Stratford Butterfly Farm
18th February 2011 - 0 comments
In: Trips
Explanation of how the 100-400mm lens was useful at the Butterfly Farm

I have found in the past that although the macro is fantastic for getting very good butterfly images on the occasions that I have had the 100-400mm lens with me it also takes a very good image. Partly as it is a good lens anyway but for those butterflies which are too far away for the reach of the macro (and there are plenty of places for the butterflies to go!) it was the only way that I could reach them! Some of the images were taken hand held with IS on and some on the tripod with IS switched off.

Usefulness of off camera flash

I also had the opportunity of comparing the camera flash with a remote camera flash. I have to say the difference was amazing. The remote flash could be held exactly where it was required and as it was also more powerful it produced a much better lit subject.
Hadrian's Wall
13th January 2011 - 0 comments
In: Trips
Recent weekend spent around Hadrian's Wall - we stayed near Hexham in a lovely B&B, very welcoming and very relaxing. We had planned a trip to Keilder also but 4 inches of snow put paid to that! However I will have some photos of the scenery and Hadrian's Wall to put on the site later today.

It was only when I reviewed the photos I realised I should have used filters. So some are on their way to me now. Just goes to show that you should always get the photo correct in the camera rather than trying to post process in Photoshop! Results are never quite the same.

Having said that I am hoping to get photos on the site tonight.

The cottage we stayed in was called Peth Head and as I said above it was very welcoming. We could not really have asked for a more relaxing stay - we were greeted with a pot of tea and home made biscuits on arrival and every day when we got back in the late afternoon before going out for dinner. Link to the site is here http://www.peth-head-cottage.co.uk/ and you can also find reviews on Trip Advisor.

Hadrian's Wall is wonderful - we visited part of the wall that is still standing at Steel Rig - pay and display car park and then a short walk to the wall itself. Very picturesque and very impressive especially when you think it was build around 1900 years ago! It only took around 6 years to complete the 80 roman miles (about 73.5 miles).

As it was so cold (although sunny) we had to find a pub to get warm - we went here http://www.twicebrewedinn.co.uk/home.html - great welcome and good beer (coffee really to get warm!!). Food also very good and to be recommended.

Northumberland is a lovely county and not visited often enough I feel - it is a place that people travel through rather than to. We will probably be going back at some stage to explore a little further.