Dancing Grebes

Sometimes you get lucky. In the unseasonably warm February afternoon on Tatton Park’s lake, we suddenly spotted two great crested grebes courting. What an amazing dance they performed. The light was still good, so some sort of reasonable pictures were possible with my Panasonic Lumix TZ200 on maximum zoom, although the show only lasted a minute or two. Here’s a selection:

Click on individual images for more detail.

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European Robin

One of Britain’s most common birds is the robin, also known as the European Robin to distinguish it from other so-called robins that I have photographed: American Robin, Clay Colored Robin, which are really thrushes. There’s usually one turns up when I’m gardening, seeking out the worms and bugs that get disturbed in the process.

The robin is so common in the UK that I never get around to taking a photograph. Luckily this one obligingly sat on a post at Brereton Country Park when I had camera in pocket, and stayed just long enough for a couple of photos. In the featured one above he is looking straight at me, a second later he was off. The earlier photo below catches a glint in his eye.

Interestingly, Wikipedia reports that

The distinctive orange breast of both sexes contributed to the European robin’s original name of redbreast (orange as the name of a colour was unknown in English until the sixteenth century, by which time the fruit of that name had been introduced).

 

Old Man’s Beard

Another feature of the otherwise dead early February vegetation in Anderton Country Park is the opportunity given for these fluffy balls of nothing to show themselves off. My companion knew from childhood that this was ‘old man’s beard’, otherwise known as ‘traveller’s joy’ or clematis vitalba.

old mans beard.jpg

Of course, clematis is a climber and can be quite vigorous, as I know from having similar variants growing in the garden – all the better for disseminating seeds in the wind.

Catkins

There’s not much apparently going on in the vegetation of the English countryside early February. Most of it is pretty dormant, apart from the odd flowering gorse and some early bulbs coming up. But we did come across these beautiful catkins in full glory in Anderton Country Park.

catkins

Catkins are actually flowers, with inconspicuous or no petals. They occur on a number of different tree types. This BBC Earth post suggests that these photographed are probably of the hazel tree, which has catkins late autumn, which then lengthen and turn golden with pollen towards the end of January.

Here they are close up.

catkins close

Fieldfare

Several of these thrush-like birds were running around and foraging on the grass in the afternoon sun at Brereton Country Park, Cheshire. They are fieldfare, almost certainly winter visitors to the UK.

fieldfare

The similar redwing would have red flanks, and the fieldfare does have a characteristic black tail. I didn’t have a long telephoto lens, but this is adequate for identification purposes with maximum zoom on my Panasonic TZ200 (360mm equivalent) – cropped.

Lapwings 2

These lapwings were on Neumann’s Flash at Anderton Country Park. Periodically they would fly up with that mesmeric leisurely flap of their large wings, flashing alternately dark and white as they circled around the lake, only to descend onto the water at almost the same point.

The distance was a bit of a challenge for the Panasonic TZ80 travel zoom I had in my pocket, but the longish zoom made a fair go of it (handheld).

lapwings 2Suitable resizing and cropping gave the featured image at the top, like an impressionistic painting. The characteristic lapwing crest is apparent.

Lapwings are also known as peewits (onomatopaeic), or green plovers. You can see the green clearly in the photograph. Apparently, outside the UK this is called the Northern Lapwing.

Squirrel silhouette

It’s a busy time of year for grey squirrels, gathering and hoarding ready for winter. We spotted this one high in the bare branches, perfectly silhouetted against the midday November sky near Marston, Cheshire. With strong backlighting and a maximum zoom shot, there’s no detail in its¬†features. The result is a pleasing, almost monochrome composition.

Autumn Colours

This is a great time of year to be walking in woodland. Here are some lovely autumn colours from Anderton Country Park the other day.

  • Oak and birch are quite subdued compared to the vibrant beech.
  • Spindle and rowan give vibrant splashes of red.
  • White poplar gives contrast – as the white underside of its leaves becomes prominent.

Lapwings

These lapwings at Anderton Country Park were too far away for a sharp photograph with my travel zoom, but I rather like the impressionistic picture. You can just about make out the characteristic lapwing crests. (Yes, there are a few ducks and gulls in the mix.)

Giant House Spider

The dog saw it a moment before I did, and almost managed to grab it off the vinyl floor before my quick intervention. This spider was BIG, appearing significantly larger than spiders usually found around the house, and with much bulkier body and legs than the long-legged harvestmen we sometimes see. Almost scary!

I first made a quick grab for the camera before it disappeared, and then carefully extracted it to the outdoors, using a large tumbler and piece of card.

giant house spider

An unusual feature of this spider is that the thorax is larger than the abdomen – most seem to be proportioned the other way around. Research shows it to be a giant house spider, actually quite common, with body length over half-an-inch.

According to Wikipedia, these spiders have eight rather ineffective eyes; the flash used for the photo has highlighted two of them. These spiders are not said to be keen on biting pets or people, so are not as scary as they look at first sight.

Spindle Red

spindle treeMost of the trees in Anderton Country Park are still green, many tinged with yellow and brown. Then there is the occasional splash of red, notably these wonderful Spindle Trees, with red leaves and red-and-yellow flowers. The rest of the year these trees are quite anonymous, but now, what a sight to lift the spirits!

Recycling progress?

In their recent report East Cheshire council was pleased to report that 55% of garbage is now recycled. That means it went into the recycling bins. How much was really recycled is anyone’s guess.

This reminds me of the first Knutsford Lectures in 1994, the days of the single black rubbish bin. We had subsidiary short talks on matters of local interest and one was given by a man from the then Macclesfield Borough Council. He had the good news that recycling was to begin soon, which indeed it did a few years later.¬†So this was progress of a sort, and people are now furiously engaged in playing a part in recycling. Of course this led to the plague of wheelie bins that now disfigures streets and alleyways across the world. [One day we will get back to a single bin which is automatically recycled, like the mostly manual French dechetterie we toured round many years ago, but that’s not my main focus here.]

It feels that we actually generate more rubbish than we did 25 years ago. Now why is that? Packaging – both plastic packaging from supermarket products and the endless excessively large cardboard boxes and internal wadding from ever more internet purchases. Amazon and product producers are actually filling up the recycling bins and thereby increasing that recycling statistic. It seems like two steps forward and one step back.

And of course Amazon avoid paying the tax that would pay for the extra cost of all this recycling. Politicians seem so slow to grasp these nettles!

Featured image shows bins in Christchurch, New Zealand
by gobeirne via Wikimedia Commons

Deer Antlers

It’s the antler growing season in Tatton Park, Knutsford. The growing antlers have a wonderful soft appearance, compared to the harsher, more angular full grown variety. I was fortunate to capture antler pics of both red deer and fallow deer on recent visits to the park.

The antlers of the two species are completely different, in that fallow deer are the only UK deer with palmate antlers.

Buttercup meadows

Much of the area to the north east of Northwich town centre was industrial wilderness for a long time. It was like a grey ash-covered wasteland when I first visited Northwich in the late 1960s. But the land is now very much being restored. It was pleasing to recently see these buttercup meadows in full flower in Furey Wood (old tip) and Anderton Country Park (old industrial land).

Yet there is a long way to go. Great biodiversity there is not. The buttercup is the great surviver and coloniser. Like the silver birch tree, it does a great job on reclaimed land. But this is a long way from the incredible richness and biodiversity of the glorious meadows, such as I first witnessed in Switzerland in the 1960s.

Like much of the British countryside, centuries of industrialization and increasingly large-scale farming have taken their toll. This is an over-exploited landscape. There is still a long way to go.