Sunday, 26 September 2010

P S Waverley

We were given a trip on the paddle steamer Waverley for a Christmas gift, and took it on 24th - Friday when it was blowing strong and cold from the North, so it was difficult to keep warm. Boarded at Dover and sailed (or steamed, or paddled) round to the Thames and up to Tower Pier, with Tower Bridge being opened for us to pass through, whereupon we all gave three hearty cheers. En route there were few birds to see until we were well into the estuary, with loadsa Common and Sandwich Terns, and 3 Arctic and 2 Great Skuas.

We joined at the Cruise Terminal, where Dover Marine Station used to be

 Waverley was tied up alongside, moving gently in the slight swell coming in the Western entrance

As we sailed, the launch followed us to take off the Pilot after we were clear of the harbour

South Foreland Lighthouse (otherwise known as Jennie's Lighthouse) from the sea

Ostend Spirit, formerley Stena Challenger (I think, I do recall the bridge wings have glass floors, a bit disconcerting when I was aboard when my pal was Mate on her) at Ramsgate about to sail

North Foreland before the weather tuned cloudy and cold

The engine room was a superb sight, with a mascot on the middle (presumably medium pressure) eccentric crank 

Movement, power and the smell of hot oil, super

Somewhere off Margate

We passed quite close to the Maunsell Forts - spooky

More forts alongside the windfarm

Cold now, everyone else inside in the warm except for the smokers!

A break in the clouds over Minster in Sheppey

Round in the estuary a Tug put on this fire hose display, presumably for the Waverley

Q E 2 bridge, an unusaul change to go underneath!!

One of the Thames Barriers closed, a dredger was working just upstream

The O2, I still prefer Millennium Dome, with the city towers behind

It was becoming quite dark as we stooged about in the Pool of London waiting for the bridge to open at 7pm

Which it did, super

Safely through, we tied up at Tower Pier after 3 rousing cheers

Assisted most suitably by this vintage Thames Tug, the Revenge, powered by a diesel electric arrangement, I believe using a marine version of the English Electric supercharged diesel engine used in BR diesel engines, sounded lovely

Winter migrant

Was working in the garden before it rained, became aware of an unusual call which I knew I knew, if you see (or hear) what I mean. Then the penny dropped, Brambling.

There were 2, and I had superb view of a winter male, but unable to get my camera before it was gone, so here's a pic of one from 2 years ago, also in the garden but after the leaves had fallen

Also in the garden, or through it, were a few Swallows, a couple of Chiffchaff, and newly arrived Robins ticking away. Last Sunday there were hundreds of Chiffchaff, Mark trapped over 50, and among them was a 3M Blackcap with a Belgian ring - that means a bird hatched this year, but whether it hatched in Belgium, or was trapped and ringed there earlier in it's migration we may find out when the details are known

Moth variations

Recently I have been finding autumnal moths in my trap, and it is suprising the variations in colour, or tone, within some species, such as Lunar Underwing. The next pic is typical, the following one is of a very pale individual, and some are almost black

Turnip moths vary enormously, too, this one being unusually pale for specimens trapped in my garden


This is a Rosy Rustic, usually nice and pink, or rosy! - this one was so untypically pale for my garden I thought it was something different, but I couldnt find anything else in my book. Nor could I find a photo of a pink one!

And finally, look at the difference in these Dun Bar moths

Friday, 17 September 2010

Within the Pale

Me and Phil had a quick day trip Wednesday for a birding poke round the Calais area, staying well within the old boundaries of what used to be part of England, a fence known as the pale - hence the expression "beyond the pale" I believe!!
Unfortunately it was a poor day by any measure, mostly due to a very strong wind, not helped by a bit of a bump somewhere in Calais, minor damage but even so the bill is going to be £700 or so - bloody hell! I own up to it being my fault too
Anyway, the day list of birds was 47, including a Shag on Dover Harbour wall as we left, Great and Arctic skua on the crossing, and this fine and (for the uk, unusually large) flock of House Sparrows on the cliff edge at Blanc Nez

Around to Gris Nez there was this pleasant view, and nearby there were 4 Curlew and a Buzzard

and at Audresselles there was the most bird-busy spot by the track own to the beach with Whinchat, Stonechat, Meadow Pipit beside the fence, but the wind kept moving them all so no photos here

Near to Wissant we went out into the Sea Buckthorn scrub and struggled through the sand for no birds at all on this flash

A few minutes later on that hilltop over there we found this superb young Wheatear which was so tame it can hardly have seen humans before

Here too were some Butterflies, sheltering from the gale, and lots of dragonflies, Hawkers and Damsels too, but too difficult to photograph well - here's a Red Admirals underside and a couple pics of a Small Copper

On to Bois de Guines for even less  birds, I had hoped for Hawfinch, not even a Chaffinch, doh! Then into the Marais de Guines, a delightfull reserve not unlike Stodmarsh, where we briefly watched a Honey Buzzard fly away out of a pollarded Willow, flushing a real suprise, a Great White Egret into the gale

Back into Calais not a little disappointed, and round to the ferryport where the ship was 90 mins late, the only highlight of the wait being an Atlantic Grey Seal in the harbour as we waited to sail into the sea and spray, a full gale with no birds moving at all now, and so home

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Nets and rails

Out at Sparrow's Fart last Sunday, found the mist nets up and plenty birds to see, the best part of an hundred ringed while I was there - mostly Blackcap and Whitethroat, with Reed Warbler, Garden Warbler, Wren, various tits, a Robin or two, and latterly some Swallows in response to a tape playing their song

This juvenile female Green Woodpecker was a spectacular bird

Lesser Whitethroat, longer winged than it's cousin, and beautiful plumage

A Yellowhammer too, at least 2 pairs bred hereabouts to my knowledge - see the unique bill shape

This Longtailed Tit was trapped as a singleton, as also were three more - unusually as they normally fall into the nets in groups

Now then, how to tell juvenile and adult Common Whitethroat apart, according to their eye colour - the adult on the right has a really bright orange iris, the youngster on the left has only a dull iris, so there you are, we are now experts, you and me!!

And the Garden Warbler, aka Sylvia Boring!! (it's latin monniker is Sylvia borin, dunno why). Notice too that the ringer also has a ring, presumably with a number so his missus can keep track of his movements!!

So it was time for me to come away, in time to miss a Tree Pipit which was successfully ringed, where will that turn up I wonder. Phil Smith came by to see what was being trapped, stayed a bit longer, and got some better pics than me, see Kearsney Birder, and while you are looking, think of me when he took the "We're doomed" photo of the storm, I was out in that lot!

Back home Sunday and a few minutes to play trains in my shed, as it was Sunday I closed the station and did some essential engineering works - just like the real thing - completing the installation of SR style 3rd rail to justify running the old ex-Tri-ang Southern Railway electric train (complete with up to date Black Beetle motor bogie, DCC chip and headcode illumination). As you can see the 3rd rail looks much too shiny and new and I shall shortly paint it grotty

and a bit of essential maintenance on the Westinghouse pump on the emergency shuttle while the works were in progress - and Yes, there is lots of work to do on scenery and backscenes, I just need a bit of time!

Monday, 6 September 2010

Last weekend

On Saturday there appeared over my garden 3 Honey Buzzards, all very light coloured so that I wondered at first if they were Ospreys. I was too absorbed to rush in and get my camera, so you'll have to make do with this image of a similarly light bird photo'd while doing BTO atlas survey work near Sutton downs

Here's another light one photo'd in Burgaundy last autumn

Also overhead on Saturday were Common Buzzard, Marsh Harrier, Kestrel, Sparrowhawk and Peregrine, super day!

Earlier we had spent some time at the village hall putting our entries in to the St Margaret's Gardener's Association autumn show, including a photo entry in the class " a photo - St Margaret's in autumn" I spent some time at Wanstone waiting for these pics of the combine working hard to get the last wheat in

In the event we didnt enter these in the class as we felt they were pictures of harvest at St M's, not so much autumn, a good decision 'cos the one we did enter got a prize!

Sunday was a full and interesting day which started at 6.30 round the bushes at St Margaret's, in the South Foreland Valley, where mist nets were set up to catch migrant birds for ringing and release. Having found a lovley little Common Redstart female to watch feeding around a Holly bush, there were these birds to admire while "in the hand" to receive their BTO rings:-

This Great Spotted Woodpecker was a noisy sod, this year's young, presumably from around here somewhere

This Wren was an unusual catch, too, lovely little birds close up. In reality the nets were quiet Sunday morning, it being reckoned that clear skies and north winds had encouraged lots of birds to clear off South.
Later on Sunday, thanks to Phil Smith, I got wind of a steam train visit to Dover in the afternoon, so took my grandson to the Priory station for a look - it was sponsored by Shepherd Neame, superb local brewers (I recommend their "Goldings" ale). So here's a "Black 5" on the front with a "Tractor" on the back (thats an English Electric class 37/9 to you) - there is a clip of the train thrashing up through Martin Mill at -

Later the train came round through Martin Mill, and me and Matthew video'd its passing, it is viewable on youtube at

For SirLamiel steaming poorly, and Tornado going like - well, a Tornado see also and