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Friday, 13 July 2012

Devonshire Mackerel, Ivel Springs and an Albino...

The second part of May was spent back at home, on the UK mainland, where I got to find my land-lubbing legs again. Cannot beat a nice riverside walk after being at sea on the same ship for 14 days, only stepping off every now and then for a couple of hours to grab a cup of tea and stretch the legs a bit. Along the river, amongst the recent spring growth on the woodland floor, this Green-Veined White Butterfly fed on some nectar. The vein-like appearance of its wings is created by a combination of yellow and black scales.

As I walked back, the dog bolted for something. Being prone to attacking anything that will run away from her, there was probably a squirrel or rabbit about. It turned out to be this little fellow taking refuge in a tree hole…


It was an albino Grey Squirrel. Or an albino Black Squirrel - I wouldn’t know how to tell ?! The only difference between Black and Grey squirrels are the colour pigment chromosomes, and this being albino, im guessing could be either of the two. I think the squirrel was also a bit dumb, either that or it was very brave, dropping down onto the branch and feeding, while the dog barked and whined in an attempt to climb the tree after it. At one point I got close enough to have been able to poke it with a short stick. I didn’t, of course.

Combe Martin

Being a massive fan of anything to do with the South-West of our country, I was very excited to be going to North Devon for a few days with the family. Staying in Combe Martin, just outside of Exmoor. The weather was perfect as we arrived in Ilfracombe…

A lovely town, where I hear tales of a certain honeymoon spent here a fair few years back. A good choice I must say! The gulls are very brave here too, having to literally punch one as it dive-bombed my tray of chips. Probably the first, and hopefully last, time I have ever punched a wild animal. It was fine, the blow cushioned by its soft underside.

Late one evening, the clan went for a twilight stroll where we were joined by plenty of bats, probably Pipistrelles, but later, with the help of Rachaels Bat Detector, we managed to identify a few to species level based on the frequency and length of their echolocation. They are extremely hard to photograph, and below is my best effort, or should I say the luckiest effort, of a bat!

Some out of focus leaves and part of the wing… It would have been nice to spend more time with them, enough to work out their flight paths and set up some shots, but I wouldn’t like to bore the rest of the family!

The next day we headed out in the baking sunshine, up to Little Hangman along the coast path, where some of the highest sea cliffs in the UK are found.

We dropped down into the cove and spent some time kicking back on the beach. Moments later, some commotion in the skies above us. A Peregrine Falcon had stolen what looked like a Gull chick and had taken it off along the cliffs to devour it. In fact, there was a pair of Peregrine, patrolling the cliff faces.

Fantastic birds, renowned for being the fastest animals on the planet, diving in the skies at up to 200mph to catch their prey. An incredible record to hold! 

We reached the top of Little Hangman, where obscure clouds hang over the cliff tops, like white cotton woolly hats. Sky poses with the lingering cloud over the cliff top in the distance...

Next day we went to Woolacombe, a popular beach for the tourists!

We had a pasty and an apple, and then headed back to Ilfracombe where we were to go Mackerel fishing! Of course, Haz caught the most…

 The two biggens in the middle were my first two, monsters I tell you!

Mackerel have to be one of the greatest fish of our time, beautifully streamlined, beautifully coloured and wonderful on the BBQ! To top that off, they are one of the more sustainable fish to be had from our seas… at the moment!

On our last day, we ventured over onto the Western part of Exmoor, where we followed a steep sided valley, a lush green with a whole host of trees, and a wonderful river winding its way through the valley to the sea. 

The woodland floor was coated with the amazingly smelling (and tasting!) Wild Garlic and Bluebells as well…

To top it off, we found a Green-Winged Orchid on the way back…

Shame about the naff photo!

The River Ivel Springs Nature Reserve

Before returning back to the Cap Fin, I got a last walk in before the end of May. Walking from Baldock, back through, along the River Ivel, to Stotfold. The early flowers flowered in the wild flower meadows of the Nature Reserve in Baldock.

Sad to see the crap people leave behind around the Springs reserve, clearly a hot spot for binge drinking fosters and tea out of polystyrene cups!

Radwell springs, and some fairly nice light for what is probably my favourite duck… The Tufted Duck! Males in their handsome black and white plumage with that glorious goldeneye and the long slick-backed tuft on top of their head.

A Coot…

And another shot of the Tufted Duck…

Lovely Duck.

Here, a usually nocturnal Cockchafer crawls amongst some pink flowers. This one being a male cockchafer with its 7 fingers to its fan-like antennae, where females only have 6 fingers on their antennae.

Never seen such a camp looking Cockchafer!

To finally end this blog, a photo of a Grey Squirrel (not albino!) on an old lamppost, raiding the birds’ fat balls. I was going to pretend I took this photo because I quite like it, but I didn’t. Haz did. Damn it.

Until next time! 

Sunday, 1 July 2012

In the Month of May in the Bay...

Rather than bore everyone with the tedious happenings of day-to-day occurrences, I have opted for a less regular blog, where, hopefully, there will be a lot more excitement to report, without people groaning at the sight of yet another failed attempt at a Dolphin photograph… or another wave crashing against the side of the ship!  This way, you get the highlights. All of the good stuff. Without the padded out tales of grumpy passengers, or how I have forgotten my soap bag, so had to go three days without a shower, shave, tooth clean or spray of deodorant. Needless to say, the quilt covers have turned a stale brown/green colour.

So now I am giving you the wildlife highlights of my life, this month’s first photo is of a floating wooden pallet. Great eh?

There are a lot of these floating around, amongst a lot of other pieces of crap. I saw two within an hour of each other. But these can, conversely, in a bizarre twist of fate, provide a unique form of shelter for fish in the open ocean. Young fish will school underneath, Triggerfish will actually make them home, and other larger fish will follow these in search of prey. The innocent floating crate could mean the difference between a Tuna making it from a few centimetre larvae to a full grown two metre long powerhouse of an adult or not (Info straight from the greatest natural history programme ever made – Blue Planet).

A particularly enormous sighting of a Fin Whale, right next to the ship, the closest I have ever sighted one, sparked some excitement amongst the crowds. I say crowds, more like the two people who were hardcore enough to brave the wind and rain! You can see in the next two photos its large body and fin rolling through the water. Pretty much all you get to see of these great leviathans.

The fin Whale was undeniably amazing. But on that very same day, something happened that overshadowed any marine mammal sighting I could have had. Out from the fog laden distance, a bird slowly caught up with the ship, struggling in the wind and rain. A bird of prey. Not any old bird of prey, a Kestrel. I love birds of prey. I especially love Kestrels. Small, agile, finely tuned, perfect predators of small mammals. But this was at sea, probably at least 150 miles from land. Crazy.

Soon the Kestrel tired of keeping up, and decided to kick back on one of the lifeboats on the side of the ship…

Luckily, of all the lifeboats, on all of the places across the entire ship the Kestrel could have landed, it landed on the lifeboat right outside my bedroom window!

Absolutely stunning! I had been spending ages out and about back home tracking these down, and then in the middle of the ocean, one lands outside my bedroom window!!! Phwooaarrr!
After a while Kes took off, leaving me with my ruined undies to retire for the day.

I seem to remember having a stint of fair weather for a few days. Here is a pod of Striped Dolphin, keeping low as they travel through the golden tinted surface of the sea in the early hours of the morning.

Santander is my favourite destination of the week, notable for its rather grand entrance, and wonderful sea front of the city. Here, the incredibly lush and snow-capped mountains in the Pecos National Park back a royal castle on the rocky sea front.

Another reason why I like Santander…  the naked statues of people scattered around the sea front. This particular fellow is diving into the sea. Not sure how well these would go down back home.

Being late spring, and everything on land already blooming, the sea was covered in miles of these giant red slicks across the surface. Plankton blooms. These tiny animals and plants explode into life as the sea begins to warm and they gorge themselves on the nutrient rich waters across the Bay of Biscay, turning the sea a lovely red colour.

The ship sailed into another spectacular sunset as it left Portsmouth. It reminded me of the over-romanticised Brittany Ferries advert on the television.

Another bird joined the ship, this time a lot smaller than the Kestrel, and a lot less likely to pummel a Bank Vole and tear its organs out. A Grey Wagtail, with its bright yellow underside, managed to keep up with the ship travelling at 45kmph. Not bad going for a little fellow, usually seen bobbing around streams and rivers.

I had just put my head down and nodded off for an afternoon kip, when the phone rang. The ship manager, Audrey, seemed a little flustered and wanted me down at reception to help them. When I got there, a Collared Dove was hobbling across the floor, falling around, clearly disabled. It had flown into the ship, and probably trashed part of its spine.

I took it to my room, with my fat face and pale forehead, and found it a box to keep it in until Audrey got off the ship and could take it to the vets. Where I believe they killed it. Should have probably killed it on the ship, saved it a day of pain and suffering, suffering and pain.

The Bay has exploded with the slightly retarded looking Sunfish or Mola Mola, the heaviest bony fish on the planet, growing over two metres from fin to fin, these guys can weigh a couple of tonne. They bask at the surface, where they are thought to be thermally recharging after deep dives in cold water. Sometimes gulls will peck parasites off of their bodies, and females of the species are known for producing more eggs than any other vertebrate on the planet. What is not to like about these insane animals?

Finally some photos of Dolphins where the entire body is visible, and kind of sharp-ish! Here a Common Dolphin and its calf (behind) leap through the water.

Here a Striped Dolphin keeps characteristically low in the water while it travels…

And a young Common Dolphin leaps from the surface !

And a through-water shot from above of a small pod of four…

My food highlight of the month has to be the Cow tongue stew. Really nice, beefy flavour, except with a much tender texture. The skin is the only part that puts you off, being a little rough and whiter in colour.  

This has been quite a long blog this one. So I will blog the adventures back on land in a second part to the month of May. Maybe next week. Probably later.

Hopefully you enjoyed!

Until next time…