Thursday, 30 August 2018

Then come the last days of May

One of my favourite places to sit and have lunch was under these large drooping clusters of flowering Wisteria arches at the Social Sciences building. The fragrant bluish-violet flowers were to die for and provided a feast for the senses. These were Wisteria floribunda bearing leaves and flowers at the same time and had stems that twined clockwise. It had the longest racemes and was shown to best effect on these pergolas and arches where the racemes hung free, unimpeded by branches or foliage. At their peak, their long colourful cascades of flower was stunning and almost everyone who saw them, moi included, would like one for the garden.

Warwick University - May

The only problem was that they were aggressive grower and heavy. The vines worked their way into any crook or cranny they could reach and as long lived plants growing up to 9 metres, required significant support and therefore requiring a large garden. It also formed very strong, woody roots and hard to remove once established. As we were renting, this was not viable. But thankfully, I have these growing just round the corner of my office.

Warwick University - May

Wisterias were deciduous, twinning climbers native to China, Japan and the eastern United States. After a long summer, they formed pendant, beanlike seedpods. Since the vines and trees bloomed in spring and early summer, it was a potent symbol of new life. I took these photographs early in the morning, as soon as I arrive for work to avoid the flowers being photobombed. During office hours, this walkway was a human highway with throngs of students and staff walking past. I really hoped that they would stop and admire these quintessential blooms.

Warwick University - May

CC and I finally were able to find a date for dinner. We last met in January when we met up with our former colleagues. Our dinner date was supposed to be a monthly event but both of us had been so busy that we just couldn’t find the date. Other personal problems like health and family were also in the way. Ramadan was also round the corner. CC had picked another new restaurant, YipinBashu, situated on Fairfax Street, outside Pool Meadow bus station. She picked this because she noticed only the Chinese were regulars which was a sign for good cuisines. The whole time we were there, we were the only outsidersSmileAlthough the menu was written in Chinese, there was some translated into English and with the help of the friendly waitress, we managed to choose the dishes. We’d jasmine rice with sizzling seafood platter, Mongolian style beef  and fried lotus root, all washed down with cups of steaming loose Chinese tea. 

Warwick University - May

While tucking into the meal, we checked out the deco. It was very simple and practical. Would we come again? I don’t think so. For something so simple, it was quite expensive. We weren’t too keen on the fried lotus root and the Mongolian beef was too watery and salty. The menu written in Chinese was also a put-off. But we’d a good time catching up, sharing news and updating each other with what we’d been up to. Then it was time to go our separate ways. We found it hilarious that the bus stop had been moved again and we’d to ask a few people where it was. It was so funny when we found out that the temporary bus-stop was just a few doors from the restaurant. Typical…

Friendship is …. catching up over good food and something nice to drink.


We celebrated the wedding of Prince Henry to Megan Markle with a visit to Slimbridge. We left the casa at 10.52 am on a bright, sunny morning with the mercury reaching 20.6 C.When we arrived at the Reserve, we were greeted by this giant 5 foot tall colourful ‘Haring Through the seasons’ hare. This year the Trust was hosting a hare as part of the Cotswold AONB Hare Trail. In its 5th year, the Cotswold Hare Trail had partnered with the Cotswold Area of Outstanding Beauty (AONB) which included 130 hare sculptures waiting to be discovered all over the Cotswold which took place until September the 9th.

Slimbridge WWT - May

Designed by illustrator, Sarah Vonthron-Laver, this hare vibrantly depicted the Cotswold landscape in each season. The location and designs of the rest of the hares explored the themes of ‘living landscapes’, to promote sustainable tourism and environmental conservation throughout the area. The Hare trail first started as the Cirencester March Hare festival celebrating the town’s link with the famous Roman Hare mosaic in the Corinium Museum in 2013. How I wish we lived closer so that we could checked out all 130 colourful hares.

Slimbridge WWT - May

As soon as we walked out of the visitor centre, we immediately zoomed onto the stony island on Swan Lake. Last year, the Oystercatcher family had 2 chicks and because they tend to nest at the same site, we expected them to be there. And we weren’t disappointed. At first, we couldn’t see it as the chick was perfectly camouflaged among the rocks. When one of its parents flew in with its piping calls, it stood up and came running to the parent.  There was only a single downy chick, following its parent for food. Earthworms and insect larvae were on the menu.

Slimbridge WWT - May

Then off to Rushy Hide where we saw Sedge still on incubation duties on the lower pond island. The incubation period was around 30 days and was done primarily by the female. The nest were constructed from dead vegetation, such as reeds, bulrushes and rushes. From time to time, she gracefully stretched her long neck to pick a pebble or a stick and redecorate her domain. We were hoping to see Monty flying in but not today. I guess he was busy feeding on the tack piece or mud-flats. The Common Cranes were omnivorous. They ate largely plant matter, but animal matter were important during the summer breeding season for regurgitating to their young.

Slimbridge WWT - May

The Common Crane was a large, stately bird and was between 100-130 cm long with a 180-240 cm wingspan, slate-grey overall. The forehead and lores were blackish with a bare red crown and a white streak extending from behind the eyes to the upper back. The overall colour was darkest on the back and rump and palest on the breast and wings. The primaries, the tips of secondaries, the alula, the tip of the tail, and the edges of upper tail coverts were all black and the greater  coverts droop into explosive plumes.

Slimbridge WWT - May

Unfortunately, the Crane was sharing its nest among the very territorial and aggressive Shelducks and Avocets. When it stood up to stretch its legs and rolled the eggs, a Shelduck flew towards it because the imposing height was seen as a threat. It was dive-bombing and quacking its head off. Thankfully, Sedge was able to duck away from the aggressive behaviour. Her first egg was laid on 29th April and the second, the next day. Male and female cranes took turns to incubate of about 2-4 hours during the daylight hours. The females do most of incubating during the night while the males stood guard. The parents made purring noise to the eggs while gently rolling them to insure a proper embryo development.

Slimbridge WWT - May

The reason for the Shelduck’s aggressive behaviour was due to these adorable black-and-white mint humbugs. A pair were parents to at least a dozen or so ducklings. Actually, we gave up counting because they somehow blended and multiplied at the same time. Shelducks formed strong pair bonds and were highly territorial and quarrelsome. Female Shelducks chose a nest-site and a typical clutch contained 8-10 eggs, but there might be more where another female had dumped some eggs into the nest. The female incubated alone, for about 30 days, with the male avoided the nest for this time, but when the ducklings hatched, he returned to guard his delightful-plumaged babies and his mate.

Slimbridge WWT - May

In their natural environment, most Shelducks often desert their ducklings at a young age, leaving them in creches with just one or two adults to look after them. The ducklings were nidifugous and able to feed themselves within hours after hatching. With such a huge brood, the parents took wing uttering quacks to the youngsters which dived underwater with skill. Although the young dived freely, the adults only did so when wounded or frightened. Both ‘chosen’ parents guarded their ducklings for 55-65 days until they were able to fly.

Slimbridge WWT - May

Nearby, the quarrelsome. noisy Black Headed Gulls were up to their usual antics. They were screaming high-pitched ‘karr’ or ‘kreeay’ while picking sticks from an abandoned nest and carrying them to the island near the camera shop. They must be thinking of having a second brood. Nest-building took part in pair formation once the nest-site was chosen by both mates. Their territorial defence were strong and the pair spent most of the day on its territory. The female laid 1-3 eggs and incubation lasted about 22-26 days, shared by both parents.

Slimbridge WWT - May

On the main island, a  juvenile Black Headed Gull was demanding to be fed, uttering ‘kek-kek’ continuously. It was pecking on its parent’s beak begging for food. The juvenile had buff to darker brown markings on the upperparts and upperwing coverts with the tail showing black terminal band. It will gradually gain the adults’ grey coloured wings over the space of two years.

Slimbridge WWT - May

We were chuffed to bits when the long-staying hybrid swam past the hide. This was the closest that we’d seen it. The hybrid, a Chloe X Eurasian Wigeon was stunning with its green blue iridescent green band from the eye to the back of the head, shimmering in the bright afternoon sun. The steep forehead and bulbous rear was very prominent. He and his partner, a female Wigeon, were busy surface feeding, dabbling for aquatic plants, grasses and roots.

Slimbridge WWT - May

Then we went to Martin Smith hide and was greeted by this family of Mute Swans swimming along the waterway with seven adorable cygnets. They were kept save by their protective parents with Dad swimming ahead and Mum keeping an eye at the back. The cygnets were dingy brown and whitish below. They grew quickly, reaching a size close to their adult size in approximately three months after hatching.They fed on a wide range of vegetation, both submerged aquatic plants and by grazing on land. The cygnets were especially vocal, and communicated through a variety of whistling and chirping sounds when contend. If they were distressed or lost, they emitted a harsh squawking noise.

Slimbridge WWT - May

There was nothing much else on the tack piece that we didn’t bother checking out the rest of the hides. We walked back into the grounds through the boardwalk. There was another family of Moorhen busy feeding. Moorhen chicks which looked like the ugliest little balls of ‘black fluff’ with bald heads were following their parents, paddling frantically after them. Moorhen fed their chicks with algae, insects larvae, worms and aquatic plants.

Slimbridge WWT - May

We spent some time at the South Lake hide because there were plenty of going on. Close to the hide, at least a dozen Black tailed Godwits were feeding on the mudflats. There were hundreds feeding at the further end of the lake. A sociable bird, they formed large flocks when feeding, probing the mud with their bill for invertebrate preys. During spring and summer, the adults had greyish backs, white bellies and brick-orange heads, necks and chests. We were very lucky to see them here as they were rare breeding birds in the UK that had suffered from dramatic declines.

Slimbridge WWT - May

Also on the mudflats, were the distinctively-patterned black and white wader with a neat black cap and a long up-curved beak. It was busy wading and sweeping its beak back and forth to catch aquatic insects and their larvae, crustaceans and worms that made up their diet. Approaching the deeper end, it swam readily and buoyantly, constantly up-ending like ducks. The Avocet was a very vocal bird, frequently giving a loud call which gave rise to the onomatopoeic Dutch name for the bird, kluut.

Slimbridge WWT - May

We were chuffed to bits to be entertained with the courting behaviour of a pair of Common Terns. Courtship feeding was frequently seen in their breeding behaviour. In an effort to lure the female to its territory in the nesting area, the male carried a fish around the breeding colony and displayed it to prospective mates. He teased the female with the fish, not parting with his offering until she’d displayed to him sufficiently. Unfortunately, the female wasn’t interested and flew off, leaving the male still with the fish dangling from its beak. Hopefully, he would find a mate soon.

Slimbridge WWT - May

The birds shrug off  the slant air,

they plunge into the sea and vanish

under the glassy edges of the water,

and then come back, as white as snow,

Slimbridge WWT - May

shaking themselves,

shaking the little silver fish,

crying out in their own language,

voices like rough bells--

it's wonderful and it happens whenever

the tide starts its gushing

journey back, every morning or afternoon.

~Mary Oliver ‘The Terns’~

Slimbridge WWT - May

We didn’t stay long after that and made our way to the car. We made a pit stop at Rushy Hide to see if Monty was around but he still hadn’t turned up. Sage was having a siesta under the hot afternoon sun, keeping her eggs snug and safe. In the car, we’d a quick lunch of cheese and onion pasties washed down with steaming coffee from the thermos. We wanted to hit the road before the FA cup final between Manchester United and Chelsea. It was a full-on day in the UK because in the morning the women enjoyed the Royal Wedding and in the evening, football for the men. We reached home just in time for the match to start. Eden Hazard penalty brought the Emirates FA Cup for Chelsea.

Brandon Marsh - May

We also checked out a Steampunk Festival at the Coventry Transport Museum. I was intrigued by this subgenre and wanted to check what it was about. When we arrived, the organisers were just setting things up. There were a few bits and bobs about and we gave them a glance over. While waiting for things to happen, we went into the Museum to kill some time. Inside, there were stalls selling Steampunk, gothic and neo-Victorian memorabilia. They should have these outside where the public could see them, have a poke around and thus adding some vibes to quite a sombre festival.

Coventry D3100b  20-05-2018 12-41-46

Steampunk was a subgenre of science fiction or science fantasy that incorporated technology and aesthetic designs inspired by 19th-century industrial steam-powered machinery. Although its literary origins were sometimes associated with the cyberpunk genre, steampunk works were often set in an alternative history of the 19th century's British Victorian era or American "Wild West", in a future during which steam power had maintained mainstream usage, or in a fantasy world that similarly used steam power.

Coventry D7200  20-05-2018 13-15-022

Steampunk also referred to any of the artistic styles, clothing fashions, or subcultures that had developed from the aesthetics of steampunk fiction, Victorian-era fiction, art nouveau design, and films from the mid-20th century. Various modern utilitarian objects have been modded by individual artisans into a pseudo-Victorian mechanical "steampunk" style, and a number of visual and musical artists had been described as steampunk. This was what was mainly displayed during the festival. About 50 people were all dressed up and swaying to the music of the era, while the rest just looked on.

Coventry D3100b  20-05-2018 13-16-12

We left the Steampunk era and headed to a world which we were more in tune with. At our favourite playground, we headed straight to Baldwin Hide where we encountered at least half-dozen dragonflies nymphs or naiads crawling out of the water, preparing to join the world above the water. They slowly clamber up the wall where they latched to hard surface to molt one last time. There were a few on the window and even on the ceiling. It was magical. Dragonflies undergo incomplete, or hemimetabolous metamorphosis, so they moved from egg to nymph to adult with no pupal stage. It was a challenge to take photographs in the dark hide that we decided to kidnap one and watched it at home.

Shots from Home - May

We carefully put one in a specimen container which I always carry with me and drove straight home.  We took it in the shady part of the garden and watched it clambered up the fence and latched itself to a surface where it was comfortable. This appeared to be a laborious process as the adult dragonfly was just about to burst out of an exoskeleton that was much too small and the nymph practically dragged its body up the fence. A nymph breathe through gills inside its rectum which propelled it forward.

Shots from Home - May

Eventually, the dragonfly the exoskeleton broke open along the thorax and begins to spill out of the hole. The head was extracted first.

Shots from Home - May

Shots from Home - May

The dragonfly began to drag its soft, squishy body  out of the nymphal exoskeleton. It started bending its body over backwards, using gravity to help pull its head and thorax down to extract its abdomen.

Shots from Home - May

Shots from Home - May

Eventually it rested on for a while, pumping haemolymph into its wings to extend them fully and and stretched them all the way out. We watched in awe as the body began extending, getting longer and longer.

Shots from Home - May

All insects shed all of their exoskeleton when they molt, which included the exoskeleton-lined respiratory system.

The little white strings hanging out of that shed exoskeleton was the shed respiratory system. 

Shots from Home - May

At this point, it had dried its wings sufficiently to move them out to its sides, holding them in the manner characteristic of dragonflies.

Shots from Home - May

Then it climbed up to the top of the fence. We held our breath and waited, There was a slight breeze. It tested the winds with its wings and flew off, ready to spend its short live and leaving its old life behind. We were sad to see it go and a bit apprehensive. This newly emerged dragonfly, referred as a teneral adult, was soft bodied and pale, and highly venerable to predators. But the Common Darter zoomed off confidently. We’d seen dragonflies flying in and out of our garden which meant there was a pond nearby. Down the road, there was also little brook where it could hang around.

Brandon Marsh - May

It had been an amazing process. Babe also videoed the whole sequence and it took us nearly 2 hours from nymph to an adult. We’d just witnessed Mother Nature at her best.

To celebrate, we made falafel to break our fast. It was a traditional Middle Eastern snack that most likely originated in Egypt. It was yummy and very crispy. I must remember to bake it for 20 minutes the next time.


  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 small onion finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 1 x 400g can chickpeas
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp mixed herbs
  • 1 lemon, zest grated
  • salt and black pepper
  • 2 tbsp tahini
  • Heat a tablespoon of oil in a small pan. Fry onion over a medium heat for 3-4 minutes until softened. Add the garlic and fry for a further two minutes and remove from the heat.

  • Drain and rinse the chickpeas and transfer to a mixing bowl. Add the sautéed onion and garlic and crush together with a potato masher until the mixture is broken down.

  • Add cumin, mixed herbs, tahini and lemon zest and mix well. Taste, season, and mix together.

  • Preheat the oven to 200C. Divide the mixture into 16 walnut-sized balls and place on a non-stick baking tray. Rest in the fridge for 20-30 minutes.

  • Remove the falafel from the fridge, drizzle with the remaining oil and bake for 25 minutes, or until crisp and golden-brown. Turn occasionally to ensure even cooking.

  • Shots from Home - May

Monday, 20 August 2018

Let us dance in the sun, wearing wildflowers in our hair

Despite the harsh spring weather, the garden was coming into its own. As the bulbs faded and herbaceous grew in leap and bound, it was clear that summer was here to stay. It was also time to get back into the lawn mowing regime, as the grass and the weeds were loving the warmer temperatures. It was a very good excuse to get a new lawnmower as our old one had gone to mow the lawn in the sky. Lush growth everywhere after the glorious spring blossoms and butterflies and bugs started appearing. A juvenile Blackbird and a Marsh tit was a welcome sight. The garden was alive and colourful again.
Shots from Home - May
Come into the garden, Maud,

  For the black bat, night, has flown,

Come into the garden, Maud,
Shots from Home - May

  I am here at the gate alone;

And the woodbine spices are wafted abroad,      
  And the musk of the rose is blown.

For a breeze of morning moves,
Shots from Home - May

  And the planet of Love is on high,

Beginning to faint in the light that she loves

  On a bed of daffodil sky,
To faint in the light of the sun she loves,

  To faint in his light, and to die.

All night have the roses heard

  The flute, violin, bassoon;
Shots from Home - May

All night has the casement jessamine stirr’d
  To the dancers dancing in tune;

Till silence fell with the waking bird,

  And a hush with the setting moon.
Shots from Home - May

I said to the lily, “There is but one

  With whom she has heart to be gay
When will the dancers leave her alone?

  She is weary of dance and play.”
Shots from Home - May

Now half to the setting moon are gone,

  And half to the rising day;

Low on the sand and loud on the stone
  The last wheel echoes away.

I said to the rose, “The brief night goes

  In babble and revel and wine.

O young lord-lover, what sighs are those,

  For one that will never be thine?
But mine, but mine,” I sware to the rose,

  “For ever and ever, mine.”

And the soul of the rose went into my blood,

  As the music clash’d in the hall:

And long by the garden lake I stood,
  For I heard your rivulet fall

From the lake to the meadow and on to the wood,

  Our wood, that is dearer than all;

From the meadow your walks have left so sweet

  That whenever a March-wind sighs
~Alfred Tennyson, ‘Come into the garden, Maud’~
We made several trips to our favourite playground and spent hours at the hide, observing and photographing Mother Nature at her best. As soon as we parked the car, we were greeted by this handsome Swallow checking us out. It was lovely to see him on the wire as they usually spent most of their time on the wing. Highly adapted to aerial feeding, they were extremely agile in flight. They had arrived from South Africa, flying over the Sahara to breed here. Now was the time to rest and replenish before finding a mate.
Brandon Marsh - May
When we walked through the visitor centre into the courtyard, we were greeted my this Pied wagtail with a beakful of juicy morsels. She was watching us, waiting for us to move away so that she could feed her chicks. After posing for a few photographs, we left her in peace. She had a nest under the solar panels where she’d been using for a couple of years. The eggs were incubated for 13 days and the nestlings fledged after 14-15 days.
Brandon Marsh - May
At Baldwin Hide, we checked the courting behaviour of the Common Terns. They had arrived from their wintering grounds along the coasts of the tropics and southern hemispheres,  These delightful silvery-grey and white birds had long tails which earned them the nickname ‘sea-swallow’. They’d buoyant, graceful flight and hovered over water before plunging down for a fish. The long pointed wings gave them the fast, buoyant flight. They were noisy in company and bred in colonies. .
Brandon Marsh - May
The male had selected a nesting territory a few days after his arrival and was joined by his previous partner unless she was more than 5 days late, in which case the pair may separate. Pairs were established through aerial courtship displays in which they flew in wide circles, calling all the while, before descending together in zigzag glides. On the ground, he courted her by circling her with his tail and neck raised, head pointing down, and wings partially open. When she responded, they adopted a posture with both head pointing upwards. Then the magic beganSmile
Brandon Marsh - May
Three floating pontoons were specially erected for the Terns but unfortunately one was occupied by a pair of nesting Canada Geese. One unhappy Tern showed his displeasure with an alarm call, opened his wings, raised his tail and bowed his head to show his black cap to the goose. Unfortunately, the nesting pair was here to stay until the goslings hatched. Until then, the Tern might have to find another pontoon. The nest might be a bare scrape in sand or gravel, but was often lined with whatever debris was available. Up to three eggs may be laid, their dull colours and blotchy patterns provided camouflage. Incubation was by both sexes and the eggs hatched in around 21-22 days. The downy chicks will fledged in 22-28 days. 
Brandon Marsh - May
We were chuffed to bits when we found out that the Oystercatcher which was nesting by the island had a chick. We couldn’t see it at first because it was so well camouflaged. We knew it would appear as soon as one of its parent arrived.  Chicks often remained hidden under vegetation, rocks, etc, and this behaviour probably reduced the risk of predation.  The egg had hatched after being incubated between 24-39 days. The parents shared parental duties such as incubating the eggs, brooding the young chicks, chasing potential predators and provisioning the chicks until well after fledging. The parents then flew in with their distinctive and shrill piping ‘kleep, kleep’ calls. Their loud calls and gregarious behaviour made them harder to miss.
Brandon Marsh - May
The downy chick had a tiny, weeny black bill, pale-mid grey upper parts with black markings and off white underparts. It was totally dependent in its parents for food until it could fly. It would fledged in 33 days but still dependant on its parents for food, and often seen begging from their parents well after fledging. Their main diet was shellfish and included mussels, cockles, clams and limpets but for the chick, it was earthworms and insect larvae. Oystercatchers were also one of the few species of waders that carried food to their young. Only one item of prey was carried per trip. One of the parent was also prising or hammering open a mussel with its strong, flattened orange bill.
Brandon Marsh - May
A Greylag came quite close to the chick and one of the parent literally flew towards it, using the long orange-red bill as a weapon. It was dive-bombing, making contact and screeching its head off. During the breeding season, pairs aggressively defended their territory. Chicks were vigorously defended by both parents, often well after fledging. This was because they only made one nesting attempt per breeding season, which was timed over the summer months. Usually, the pair returned to the same mate and territory year after year.
Brandon Marsh - May
The chick left the nest within one or two days of hatching. Although it was dependent on its parents for food and protection, this little guy was quite independent and was wandering along the mudflats, under the watchful eyes of its parents. But if it sensed danger, it will freeze. Chicks were warned of danger with a sharp, loud ‘chip’ or ‘click’. I found it so adorable that it found the heat unbearable and was finding shelter under a bush. Soon, it would have a dark tip to the bill, browner dorsal plumage and grey legs.
Brandon Marsh - May
The Oystercatcher family had shared the island with a family of Coots. It was quite incredible to see two very territorial birds nesting on a small island. After being incubated by both parents for 21-26 days, 4 adorable ‘cootlings’ were hatched. The chicks were precocial, but were brooded at the nest for the first 3-4 days.They were black with scattered yellow down around the head. The bare crown was reddish. The bills and the very small shield were red. Eyes were hazel to grey-brown.
Brandon Marsh - May
There were lots of short contact calls ‘kow’, ‘kowk’, ‘kup’ or sharp ‘kik’. The parent used several foraging methods such as scraping algae from substrate, gleaning, dabbling, upending, diving and grazing for seeds, aquatic plants, worms, leeches and insects. Food was brought up to the surface rather than eaten underwater and fed first bill to bill by both parents. Coots could be very brutal to their own young under pressure such as lack of food, and they would attacked their own chicks when they begged for food. Thankfully, there was an abundant of food here.
Brandon Marsh - May
From time to time, we could hear the Cuckoo calling and the calls were getting closer and closer. But first, we’d to stop at East Marsh Hide and it was like a waders creche. On the main island, was another family of Oystercatchers with 3 adorable chicks. That was a full house and trying to keep an eye on them was going to be a nightmare for the parents. Since the island was overpopulated with families of Canada Geese, Lapwings and Mallards, they were moving off to another island. Unfortunately, one of the chicks wasn’t too keen to swim across and kept on turning back. But Dad was there to keep him in line.
Brandon Marsh - May
The gulled sky shrieks above a mournful sea;
In the grey austerity, the wind moans.
Like candyfloss, spun by the waves,
The spindrift balloons above the billows.
Stunted, tenebrous trees claw at the waves
Which gargle and gurgle through time-worn stones.
Brandon Marsh - May

Bladderwracked rocks peep from the Stygian depths,
Then disappear below the breathing tide.
The brittle reek of iodine and kelp
Pervades this melancholic atmosphere.
Flashing white "V"s, screaming over the waves,
Suddenly a flight of oystercatchers
Brandon Marsh - May
With their insistent whistling, hits the shore.
Scuttering in the receding water,
Their orange bills probe like nodding donkeys.
They're happy enough in their quest for food,
Immune to man's weather-born changing moods
And unconcerned about the gathering storm.
~William Messent ‘Oystercatchers’~
Brandon Marsh - May
A Lapwing chick was on the mudflat and was waving the family bon voyage. It was covered in down when it hatched and was able to walk and feed within hours. All Lapwing chicks are nidifugous, leaving the scrape or nest shortly after hatching to wander, still downy and on disproportionately long legs. This chick was very independent, spending time foraging for invertebrates around the edges of the mudflats. However, it still relied on its mother to brood, as it was unable to regulate its own body temperature. It was also vulnerable at this age, relying on its parent to alarm call at the sign of danger and on its camouflage to protect from predation.
Brandon Marsh - May
Its parent was keeping an eye on a pair of Little Ring Plovers. The nest and chicks were defended noisily and aggressively against all intruders but the Plovers were much more interested in foraging. Small and rotund waders, they foraged for invertebrates and crustaceans in a very distinct way; standing and watching, running forward, pecking, daintily picking up morsels of food then standing still again. It was quite cute to watch them scuttering across the mudflat, sometimes energetically trampling around on the sand to flush prey out of hiding places.
Brandon Marsh - May
A male Muntjac made an appearance on Wigeon Bank. Bucks had short antlers growing from long pedicles which were usually unbranched. The visible upper canine or tusks suggested that they were primitive species. There was a ginger forehead with pronounced black lines running up the pedicles. He was feeding on the young shoots as he walked along the path into the other deeper parts of the reserve. Muntjac were known as ‘barking deer’ from the repeated loud barks given under a number of circumstances but I’d never heard them.
Brandon Marsh - May
When we heard the Cuckoo calls getting closer, we made our way to Ted Jury hide. But, I had to stop to photograph this Orange Tip, my first photograph of the year. It was true sign of spring being one of the first species to emerge that hadn’t overwintered as an adult. I’d seen them earlier but they were always fluttering about. This butterfly do not form discrete colonies and wandered in every direction as it flew along the hedgerows and woodland margins looking for a mate, nectar sources or foodplants. This was a male with the orange tips to the forewings which were absent in the female.
Brandon Marsh - May
We continued walking and was distracted by a small olive-brown warbler actively flitting through the trees with a distinctive tail-wagging movement. It was picking insects from the trees and often flew out to snap them up in flight.  When it settled on a branch, we found out that it was a Chiffchaff. At this rate we will never reach Ted Jury. This warbler got its name from its simple distinctive, repetitive cheerful chiff-chaff. This song was one of the first avian signs that spring had returned. But in summer, after finding a mate, it went quiet.
Brandon Marsh - May
Finally, we were at Ted Jury and just in time for the Cuckoo, a dove-sized bird with blue grey upper parts, head and chest with dark barred white underparts. They were summer visitors and well-known brood parasites with the females laying their eggs in the nests of other birds, especially Meadow pipits, Dunnocks and Reed warblers. Only the male cuckoo calls cuckoo while the female’s bubbling call was often said to resemble the sound of bath water running out when the plug was pulled. Unfortunately I’d never heard the female’s call.
Brandon Marsh - May
O blithe New-comer! I have heard,
I hear thee and rejoice.
O Cuckoo! shall I call thee Bird,
Or but a wandering Voice?
While I am lying on the grass
Thy twofold shout I hear;
From hill to hill it seems to pass,
At once far off, and near.
Though babbling only to the Vale
Of sunshine and of flowers,
Thou bringest unto me a tale
Of visionary hours.
Brandon Marsh - May
Thrice welcome, darling of the Spring!
Even yet thou art to me
No bird, but an invisible thing,
A voice, a mystery;
The same whom in my school-boy days
I listened to; that Cry
Which made me look a thousand ways
In bush, and tree, and sky.
To seek thee did I often rove
Through woods and on the green;
And thou wert still a hope, a love;
Brandon Marsh - May
Still longed for, never seen.
And I can listen to thee yet;
Can lie upon the plain
And listen, till I do beget
That golden time again.
O blessèd Bird! the earth we pace
Again appears to be
An unsubstantial, faery place;
That is fit home for Thee!
William Wordsworth ‘To the Cuckoo’
Brandon Marsh - May
After the pair had gone, a Hobby did a fly-past with its long pointed wings. Hobbies were flying aces among Falcons. Cutting and swirling through the air with graceful beats of their long wings, performing agile and daring manoeuvres. Dragonflies and other insects were easily snatched right out of the air, while Swifts and Swallows were swooped on with deadly speed. They were the only falcon that spent the winter months south of the Sahara desert and also the only falcon that bred in Britain to have a red under-tail coverts and ‘trousers’.
Brandon Marsh - May
A Great Spotted woodpecker flew onto the nearby tree. It was a female because there were no red markings on the neck or head. It was clinging to the tree trunk hunting for insects, larvae, ants and spiders in the nooks and crevices. Easily accessible items were picked off the barks or from fissures in the bark, but larvae were extracted by chiselling holes and trapping them with the tongue. The stiff tail feathers were used as a prop against the trunk. Then it flew off with a very distinctive bouncing flight.
Brandon Marsh - May
After all the excitement, we thought of chilling out at Steely Hide before heading home. But then, the Kingfisher appeared and all you could hear were our cameras rattling again.
Brandon Marsh - May
It was the Rainbow gave thee birth,
And left thee all her lovely hues;
And, as her mother’s name was Tears,
So runs it in my blood to choose
For haunts the lonely pools, and keep
In company with trees that weep.
Brandon Marsh - May
Go you and, with such glorious hues,
Live with proud peacocks in green parks;
On lawns as smooth as shining glass,
Let every feather show its marks;
Get thee on boughs and clap thy wings
Before the windows of proud kings.
Brandon Marsh - May
Nay, lovely Bird, thou art not vain;
Thou hast no proud, ambitious mind;
I also love a quiet place
That’s green, away from all mankind;
A lonely pool, and let a tree
Sigh with her bosom over me.
William Henry Davies ‘The Kingfisher’
Brandon Marsh - May