Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Everybody loves a murmuration of starlings!

I am soooooo jealous!  Those girls were right in there with the birds.  What an amazing experience!  One for the grandchildren, I think!  Not struck by the soundtrack, mind you.  I'd have gone with natural sound.  But then, I am an old curmudgeon!

Murmuration from Sophie Windsor Clive on Vimeo.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Woodpecker drumming

I missed the Springwatch that featured this innovative great spotted woodpecker, but decided I had to share it when I came across it today.  Magic!


On Saturday we went to Cambridge Arts Theatre to see another new and stunning contemporary dance group called BalletBoyz.  They're touring the country, and if you get a chance, go and see them.  They're brilliant, and the choreography is quite different from any other group we've seen.  I won't say any more, because the link takes you to a short video which will show you all you need to know.

Initially I was disappointed with the seats we were allocated.  The theatre's ticketing system was down when I booked the seats, and they took all the details manually, then issued the tickets when the sytem came back up.  I'd asked for seats in the middle of the row, as close to the front of the stalls as we could get, but when I collected them, we were on the far right of row D in the circle, which is quite a bit different.

However, we did have a good, if rather more distant, view, and we saw the stage from a completely different angle to what we're used to.  We lost the right-hand edge of the stage, being so far to the right.  In some ways we had a much better view than we'd have had where we normally sit, but we missed the immediacy of being really close.  So overall, not as disappointing as we'd thought to start with, and we'll consider central seats in the circle in future.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Disproportionately pleased

Before we went to the Galapagos, in December 2009, we decided it was essential we have a camera each, so we went to John Lewis in Cambridge and bought a nice Panasonic Lumix, and I've been completely delighted with it ever since.  The image stablisation has meant that I've taken far fewer rubbish blurry shots than before, though I still take quite a few rubbish sharp shots, of course!  The star Galapagos photo is this one, in which the dragonfly was a good 5 metres away.  The 18X optical zoom is also pretty good, though rather upstaged by the modern versions of the same camera, of course.

However, one thing has been bugging me, just a bit, every time I used the camera.  The lens cap was a very sloppy fit, so it would constantly fall off.  Not enough to make me cross, but certainly enough to generate a quiet GRRR! each time.

Today we went into Cambridge for completely different reasons, but I thought in time, to take the camera.  We passed through Jessops, where a nice man sold me a lens cap THAT FITS!!!!!!  Hoorah!  So I'm completely delighted, yet it's such a small thing. How silly is that?!!

Friday, 13 January 2012

Goldfinches in the garden

I love it when we get anything slightly unusual in the garden, and although there are loads of goldfinches around right now, we get hordes at Fowlmere, for instance, we don't often see them in our garden.  So it was a particular pleasure today to see six feeding high up in the paper birch tree, then later, two at the bird feeders.  This photo isn't pin-sharp, partly because I took it through the window.  I've found, with goldfinches, that opening the window, however slowly and quietly you do it, is enough to frighten them away, so today I didn't even try.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

New books

I've added a couple of new books to my list of recent good reads on the panel on the right.  I suppose I should really knock some of the older ones off, as it's really some time since I read them.  However, they're too good to dismiss, so I'm considering changing the title of that little section to suit what I want to leave there.

Brian Switek's Written in Stone is a great book about fossils, evolution and where we fit in.  It's exactly the sort of book you'd expect me to enjoy and I have no hesitation recommending it.  I can't remember how I came to read it, whether it was one that Jenny picked up or whether it came as part of the small library that she had to read in preparation for the Royal Society Winton Prize of which I've blogged before.

Sam Kean's Disappearing Spoon was definitely part of that batch of books, and in fact, was my favourite of all the books I read.  Personally, I'd have awarded the Winton Prize to this book, but I wasn't on the jury.  This is a collection of short tales about the elements that make up the Periodic Table.  There's one short piece about each element, and it's a lovely read.

The Disappearing Spoon of the title comes about like this.  Gallium is soft and easily moulded, with a very low melting point and looks like aluminium, so the trick was to make a realistic looking teaspoon and have your friend stir his tea with it.  The temperature of the tea would be enough to melt the teaspoon while the tea was being stirred.  The book doesn't say whether or not the victims of this prank ever drank the tea, but looking at the elements that surround it in the Periodic Table, I'd hazard a guess that you'd get away with it.  Cadmium is pretty close, and that's quite a nasty poison, but everything else within a spit is mostly harmless.  Of course, the tea would probably taste revolting and he'd discover molten gallium sloshing around the bottom if he got that far.

Monday, 9 January 2012

Jawfish mimics Mimic Octopus

Judging by the number of hits you get when you type "mimic octopus jawfish" into Google, this is old news, but I think it's so cool I'm going to post about it anyway.  Take a look at these two photographs.
The mimic octopus hit the headlines a year or two back because of it's impressive ability to mimic lion fish or flat fish and so on,(see here for a YouTube video) but this latest twist is even better.

The octopus only lives around Indonesia, and the black-marble jawfish has a much bigger range, but where the two overlap, the fish has been spotted pretending to be part of the octopus, thereby avoiding becoming someone's lunch.

In both photo's, the red arrow is pointing at the fish's head, but it's such a good disguise, it's still hard to see, even knowing that!

You can read the full details about it here.

Friday, 6 January 2012


Yesterday, being maintenance day and quite windy, we were mostly clearing fallen trees, and cutting and burning reeds.  It was a great day as the weather steadily improved through the day, and we got masses done.  Finally left the site at about 4.30, completely knackered!

Getting home, I realised I didn't know when the new term starts, ie, when my next Spanish class is, so phoned the school and picked up the recorded message stating that it's next week.  That gave me an unexpected spare morning and it being a most beautiful, if chilly, day, I slid rapidly off to Fowlmere.

I saw more or less nothing as I walked around the reserve, though there were several tempting calls coming from the bushes, but nothing I recognised.  Well, apart from various sorts of tits, robins, wrens, blackbirds, of course.

At Reedbed Hide I saw nothing much for quite a while.  A grey heron, half a dozen greylag geese, a couple of mallard and a lone female teal.  But hey, the sun was shining and I was quite content to sit and watch the world pass by.

A couple of folks came in and as they were setting up, a raptor flew down from behind us and landed on the other side of the mere.  It was the size of a buzzard, but I thought that was unusual behaviour for a buzzard, since it didn't have any prey.  It spent several minutes on the ground, drinking, amongst other things, but possibly bathing, too.  We'd just about decided it was the female hen harrier that's been seen on numerous occasions over the past week or so, when it flew off northwards and settled in a willow right in front of Drewer Hide.  If there was anyone in there, they'll have had a fantastic view of it.  Bastards!

Then a small flock of teal arrived, so now there were ten of them, seven males and three females.  The males were in real showing-off mode, stretching their necks skyward briefly, then doing much the same with their backsides. Male teal have brown heads with a broad irridescent green eye stripe, and a yellow patch on the side of the tail, and a blue green panel on top of the flight feathers, both of which are visible in the swimming ducks.  When the males pointed their backsides skywards, the yellow and blue green flash in the bright sunlight was! (Corrections are because I can never remember whether they're blue or green.  Mallard have a blue panel (speculum) while teal have a green one.)

More folks arrived, some of whom pointed out a couple of common snipe which I had looked for but completely failed to spot.  Now I know where to look, I won't miss them again, I promise myself!

And finally a buzzard flew over, giving a great view of the underside.  At that point, my lunch was calling me home, so I left, but I'm just about to return, as the sun is still shining!  Maybe I'll see the hen harrier again, who knows?

Later: Yep, hen harrier gave several good displays, though I wasted quite a lot of the view trying failing to photograph her. She didn't come that close, however, frightened off by the clatter of camera motor drives, I reckon!  There was a couple of guys with the most enormous penises telescopic lenses attached to their cameras.  At one point, the bird was visible for about 5 seconds, not too far away, and one of these guys shot of what sounded like 50 frames in a series of short bursts.

I couldn't find the snipe, despite knowing where to look!   

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Fen Drayton Lakes

Well Jenny is finally better, and has just taken a phone call from her doc explaining that tests had showed she was suffering from Campylobacter infection.  We still don't know where it came from, though, but have our suspicions, since three of the seven people who ate my brother's most delicious chicken liver paté went down with similar symptoms.

Anyhow, yesterday being beautiful, if rather chilly, Jenny and I went to the RSPB reserve at Fen Drayton, where we saw lots of waterfowl.  Teal, tufted duck, gadwall, half a dozen shag, great crested grebe, as well as more coots than we thought existed, plus goldfinches, chaffinches, long tailed tits, etc.

It was all quite splendid, and we were very pleased we'd thought to take some hot mushroom soup in a thermos, but the real problem was just how far away the birds were.  I mutter into my beard at Fowlmere that the birds are too damn far away, but at Fen Drayton it was really hard work identifying things much of the time as they were hundreds of metres away.    Our binoculars are quite powerful, but we really needed a telescope, and that's going too far, I mean!

And the map we collected from the stand in the car park didn't show the only hide that exists at Fen Drayton, so we didn't nake it there.  We have a feeling it's rather a new reserve, and not really all that well sorted out.

So I didn't take a single photograph, but we did come home feeling really refreshed and pleased we'd made the effort.  Not sure we'll be rushing back, mind you.