Sunsets, Sandwell and Galls

Another quiet week this end, with getting ready for the kids to go back to school and my own struggles with creative motivation, photography has taken a bit of a back seat recently. I’m trying not to put pressure on myself to just shoot anything for the sake of it, I love photography and I would hate for it to feel become a chore.

There are so many avenues with photography, I’m just at a bit of a crossroads in where to go next. Inspiration is much needed.

The menagerie of images this week come from my home, RSPB Sandwell Valley, Malvern Hills and a local woods.

The first image is of the stunning sunset that generated beautiful hues over the county last week, which was unexpected. It was hard to resist, snapping a quick phone phone shot of the colours that adorned the sky. Autumn and winter sunsets when the conditions are just right are very hard to beat.

Next, a lovely walk was just the right start to the weekend that was much needed. RSPB Sandwell Valley has been on my location list for a while, its a lovely urban green space in Birmingham. Although quite busy with people, as I was walked around, I didn’t feel on top of others out for their dose of fresh air.

I managed to see two Herons on the walk round the reserve, one in flight and the other on the water side, not hunting, just watching the passersby very carefully.

Herons always remind me of The Animals of Farthing Wood cartoon I remember watching as a child. For those who aren’t aware of the show/books (written by Colin Dann) the story revolves around a collective of animals dislodged from their homes because of a housing development being built, thus destroying Farthing woods. They are all on the search for a new home. It was quite harrowing t.v. for a child, I remember characters dealing with death and homelessness, not all doom and gloom though the show/book also illuminated the need for good friends and looking out for each other.

Following on from the other evening, I couldn’t resist an outing to the Malvern Hills, to hopefully catch a colourful sunset. I always marvel at the views from the hills, scenery that seems to stretch out endlessly. I was lucky, although not the hues of the previous evening, the sunset glowed with golden light and I am happy with the shots I did take.

The last find was on a local walk, while taking the dog out. The brown galls made from the Silk-Button Gall Wasp caught my eye, from the underneath of an oak leaf just above my head.

Reading into the gall wasp is fasinating. They have two generations per year. One being asexual and the other agamic (all female and needs no male to reproduce).

The “silk button” galls pictured, are caused by the asexual generation of the gall wasp. Each button contains a single wasp larva. They can be seen on the leaves from August to October, until the leaves fall in autumn. The wasp larva will mature in August but remain in the gall on the ground throughout the winter, emerging the following year from February to April.

Small world nature has really pushed me to look deeper into the world around us, there is so much activity happening all the time that I am oblivious to. Knowing more about the environment around me, I learn to have a better appreciation of each plants, animals, insects, etc role in the ecosystem, and thinking of how I can help e.g having wildlife garden.

I hope the past week has found you well, until next time, take care.

July.

How are we already in July? The most surreal year; I think any of us have ever experienced, has definitely not rested on its laurels. In a way I am grateful for this speed as with each passing month hopefully means a month closer to getting back to some sort of normality.

An attempt to partake in some sort of pre-lockdown activity this week, I visited Croome Court. I knew that once the National trust had reopened Croome I would like to visit. You have to prebook tickets for a set timeslot, you are unable to enter the properties, but this did not phase me as the grounds of Croome court are exquisite,

The walk did not disappoint, I was even lucky enough to see a Heron in the lake hunting, unfortunately they did not manage to make a catch while I was there, although it did aid my photograph snapping; Herons stand so still while they are stalking potential prey.

Another day and another walk, this time on the Malvern hills. Views from the top, over Worcestershire and Herefordshire are breathtaking. Patchwork fields, glittering water sources and of course the hills themselves all offer their charm as you walk further up the hills.

Garden macro photography has continued to be a source of comfort when I am unable to go out. The flower beds are still providing beautiful blooms, this weeks offering being the bright orange of the Calendula.

There are still a good number of flowers yet to bloom and I cannot wait to see what has flourished from the seeds I had previously scattered (a wild flower mix). The wild mustard flowers are currently the main attraction for insects, with various hover flies and bees visiting the delicate yellow flowers.

I hope you have all had a great week, until next time, take care.

A New Place To Roam.

There aren’t many things that fill me with as much joy as finding new photography locations. This past week I have managed to find not one but two! The variety of wildlife at both of these locations will give me plenty to capture as the year goes on.

The first location was a relatively local set of ponds, covered with reeds, it housed plenty of ducks, moorhens and even the odd brown rat. Its a place I am more than certain I will return to regularly.

I love feeding the ducks. I would assume most peoples first encounter with wildlife would be feeding the ducks or swans as a youngster. It is something that I will never grow out of, the only difference these days is that I don’t feed them bread, I take seed which the ducks still guzzle down enthusiastically.

At the pond there were plenty of new life, baby ducklings, moorhen chicks and young rats. I really hope to see how these families progress as time moves on.

The second location was a circular walk along the River Avon. Along the river side there were plenty of dragon flies, damsel flies, butterflies and swallows, whizzing past to catch the midges over the water. I had hoped to potentially see kingfishers, so I had favored my longest lens, leaving my macro at home, a decision I would regret with the amount of mini beasts around. Again, as with the ponds, I am very eager to return.

The swallows were fascinating to watch, catching their query along the river, I tried numerous times to get in flight shots but they were just so quick. I did discover that there were a few nesting pairs beneath a railway bridge and managed to capture a shot of a single Swallow perched on one of the steels. They are beautiful birds when you can study them and are not just a blur.

I also saw my first Sedge Warbler, a flit of movement in the reed bed across the river caught my eye. It took a long while to locate the source and even then the picture isn’t the clearest. I am relativity new to birding really, apart from watching garden birds. There are many firsts to be had even with abundant varieties, I look forward to what I manage to capture in the future.

Since the lockdown restrictions have started to ease, I have been trying to look for walks that would not be too busy, for ease of social distancing. I need to be in green space, there is something about being out in nature that just calms my mind. I have struggled this week with extremes of highs and lows, but when I am out feeding ducks or walking along a field, I am level.

I really hope you are all keeping well, until next time take care.

Love at first sightings.

https://www.wwt.org.uk/wetland-centres/slimbridge/

https://www.redditchbc.gov.uk/things-to-do/parks-and-outdoors/arrow-valley-country-park.aspx

I love watching wildlife, whether it be blue tits visiting the feeders or bees pollinating flowers, I take great enjoyment and relaxation from it all. I may not have been a serious “watcher” until this blog but I have always appreciated the experiences I have had. This can mean my knowledge is sometimes lacking e.g. identification but part of the fun is learning new things.

I have a bucket list of the British wildlife that I would love to see and hopefully photograph; Otters, foxes, badgers, red squirrel, kingfishers, herons, adders, voles, harvest mice….etc. I could carry on naming copious amounts of wildlife but I’m sure you get the idea.

I was lucky enough to briefly see a wild otter at Croome, which took one off my list, fingers crossed I can get a shot of them next time! I didn’t really have a plan for the next animal I would be aiming to hopefully see.

That is, until one Instagram post from WWT Slimbridge peaked my interest. Kingfisher breeding season had begun. That was it, my mind was set.

I always enjoy visiting Slimbridge, over the years I have lost count of the amount of times I have visited. It was just the excuse I needed to make my first visit of the year.

Setting off early, I was very excited at the thought of potentially seeing a wild kingfisher in the flesh. Like the otter it is an animal I have seen in print but never with my own eyes.

As soon as I entered Slimbridge I headed straight to the kingfisher hide. Immediately, directly in front of the hide, across a pond there was the most striking blue and orange little bird. I was not expecting to see them so quickly. I was enchanted.

If you are to visit Slimbridge in hopes of catching a glimpse of them yourself, be mindful that the hide windows are currently screwed shut as not to disturb the breeding pairs. A volunteer had informed me this was due to people previously scaring the kingfishers, who in turn then abandoned the nest site.

I took a few shots through the window, but mostly I was happy to just sit and watch. I was lucky to see a male and female kingfisher who kindly demonstrated what the breeding season was. They stayed for about 40 mins before moving on.

I lingered a little longer with hopes they would return to which they did not. I did, however, manage to see a field vole emerge from their hole near the hide and grab a quick shot. Eventually I decided to visit the other hides dotted around the site.

One of these is named the Willow hide, which is placed in front of feeders. There were the usual tits, sparrows and pigeons who were making the most of the provided fayre.

At the time of visiting this particular hide, the volunteer I had previously mentioned was present and very kindly pointed my gaze past the feeders and towards a clearing in some thicket, a bird I had never seen before appeared. A water Rail I was informed.

Moving on to another hide more firsts; a curlew and a lapwing. You may be wondering “if you had visited Slimbridge so many times in the past, then why haven’t you seen these all before?” The answer is simple I have never took the time to utilise the hides properly.

I look forward to future visits where I can again make the most of the hides and try and spot more new (to me) wildlife.

The following day on a whim I took a trip to Redditch to visit Arrow Valley Country Park. The skies were mostly clear and bright, it would of been a shame to waste it indoors.

The park is beautiful with a huge lake and I can see myself revisiting regularly. I could of happily sat on the side of the lake and shot away all day. There is a great diversity on the lake, from the usual swans and ducks to canada geese, cormorants and grebe.

One of the highlights from that day was seeing a Heron on their nest. I have seen Herons in the wild before but always as a singularity never as a pair and never on a nest. I was ecstatic to find that the pictures I had taken were clear.

As you may imagine, this weekend has filled me with no end of joy, it has provided me with a boost in motivation to seek out other locations where I can observe more wildlife; either to make new discoveries or to just enjoy old favourites.

I hope you enjoy this weeks images, and I wish you a great week until next time.