Grebes and swans

As the sun goes down on Melchett Mere (previous post), the grebes use the last of the light to carry on fishing, frequently disappearing under water.

And the mute swans begin to settle for the night.

 

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Low sun on Melchett Mere

On a clear January afternoon the sun slowly settles down behind the trees. The effects on the water of Tatton Park’s Melchett Mere are quite striking.

low sun on melchett mere

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.

Northwich’s Swing Bridges

Northwich in Cheshire is notable as being an old salt town, so much so that during its history there have been frequent occurrences of subsidence as the land has subsided into old salt workings below. This proved a big problem for bridges over the River Weaver, which provided Northwich’s water link with the River Dee. The bridge pillars gradually subsided.

This was solved in 1898 with the building of the Hayhurst Bridge, followed the Town Bridge in 1899, the first electrically powered swing bridges in Great Britain. Two bridges meant that one was always open to traffic.

To avoid the subsidence problem, these bridges were built on floating pontoons, said also to be also the first of their kind in the country.

I’ve included monochrome images, trying out the capabilities of my new phone’s camera. I thought the black-white bridges could look better this way, but the colour versions actually look better to me.

Dee Estuary

dee estuary

This recent view of the Dee Estuary from the cliffs near Thursaston in the Wirral doesn’t really satisfy the rule of the golden mean or two-thirds in photographic composition, with the horizon in the middle. But I rather like it, particularly with the muted colours of this sunset. What do you think?

On the left horizon you can see the coast of North Wales.

Chaffinch

wirral chaffinchThis chaffinch obligingly posed in a tree in the full light of the late afternoon sun in Cheshire. The full name is ‘common chaffinch‘ and it is indeed widely seen in the UK and Europe.

The name suggests that these seed eaters were associated with the chaff around wheat at harvest time.

Large Red Damselflies

Lots of pairs of Large Red Damselflies flit around our pond this sunny Sunday morning, aiming to create the little pests that sometimes take bites out of fish. There I am trying to get a reasonable shot, without much success – they’re always too far away, moving about too much, difficult to focus, awkward background… Then along comes wife: “I’ve got a pair on my hand!” Suddenly it’s easy to get a reasonable photo of those colourful bodies and lacy wings.

damselflies

The female has the yellow in the stripes, and the male is a darker red.

They do come in handy, wives!

Great Crested Grebe

Light is all in photography. We recently chose the time of day when the sun was getting low to walk with camera by the Moor Pool in Knutsford. Our unexpected reward was this pair of great crested grebes, one on the nest and one a little way away on the water – both well within range of my travel zoom.

What a magnificent head and neck (see featured image)! Which is why this bird was almost driven to extinction in the UK in the 19th century, for its head plumes. Fortunately, thanks to the formation of the RSPB (see history), the survival of these birds is no longer under threat.

Getting so close to grebes was unusual in my experience – they usually seem to ensure that they are some distance from humans, probably because of that history of persecution.

Gorse

It’s a dull mid-January day in Anderton Country Park. All the vegetation seems dormant, apart from the brilliant yellow of the occasional gorse bush in flower. Not a huge mass of colour, but enough to brighten the spirits at this time of year, and gives a nice composition.

gorse.jpg

This is presumably a Common Gorse, which flowers roughly from January to June. This seems to complement the Western Gorse, which flowers late summer and autumn (also Dwarf Gorse). As a result, you can see Gorse flowering in Britain most of the year round.