"To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour."

From "Auguries of Innocence"

by William Blake

Saturday, 30 April 2011

A Day Spent on "Safari"

It was my daughter's 21st Birthday yesterday and she asked to spend the day at West Midlands Safari Park.

I must admit I am not keen on the idea of visiting zoos as I don't like seeing captive wild animals in cages or small enclosures but as I had promised daughter she could anywhere she liked I was in a bit of a difficult situation especially as we had taken the children to the Safari Park when they were little. So I had to convince myself that at least most of the animals would be in large enclosures even if its not the most natural of existences.

It did, however, give me more practice with the 70-300mm lens - some of the photos are better than others as, despite the Royal Wedding, the place was packed and as there were 2 lanes to the road through the "safari" part we always seemed to be in the lane furthest away from the animals and I had to try and take pictures between cars. In many of the areas we had to keep windows closed and so the photos are taken through a dirty car window!

Ankole Cattle from East Africa - a species of cattle first domesticated 6000 years ago.

I think these are Blackbuck (native to India and Pakistan)


White Bennett's Wallaby from Tasmania

In places the Safari Park resembled a version of Jurassic Park as every time you entered an area with "dangerous" animals you had to queue up at traffic lights waiting for electric gates to open and then move into an area to wait for the gates behind to close and the next set to open. At one point a very interesting looking moth appeared on the bonnet of the car and I was told in no uncertain terms that no I could not get out of the car to look at it as the electric gates to the lion enclosure were about to open!

North American Wolf

The White Lions were beautiful animals. According to the Safari Park Guide they have been part of African folklore for hundreds of years and in 1975 2 white lion clubs were seen in the Timbavati Game Reserve. In 2006 two more white cubs were spotted but they were killed and it looks as though the only White Lions today are found in captivity. They are not albino but leucistic where recessive genes cause loss of pigmentation in the fur and skin but not in lips or eyes.


Not quite sure about the identity of this species as I can't find it in the Guide Book!

Bactrian Camel

Baby Bactrian Camel

I was trying to get a complete picture of the head of this ostrich who was busy attacking the wing mirror of my husband's car but I never did manage to get a better image as I suddenly realised it had spotted my telephoto lens sticking out of the window and it looked as though it had decided it would make a better snack than the mirror and as it was advancing rather rapidly I had to beat a hasty retreat as far into the car as I could go!

Burchell's Zebra

We spent the afternoon walking around the rest of the Safari Park. Near the hippo's wallowing pool I spotted my first mallard ducklings of the year

My favourite animals of the day were the meerkats exhibiting their usual cute behaviour.

New since we last visited is a lemur walkway which is an area of woodland where various species of lemur roam.


And here's one I bought home with me!

When we got home Emily opened her presents and finally got to see her cake - she asked for a "fairy castle" cake and here it is.

Here's a picture of the birthday girl - she wouldn't let me post any recent pictures so here's a scanned photo of her at about 4 months old.

We rounded off the day with a great meal at The Plough.

Friday, 29 April 2011

Nestbox Update

Just a quick update on blue tit nesting activity in the whitebeam tree via the nestbox camera.

The first egg was laid, as previously mentioned on 25th April, and the female blue tit has added one egg each day since with a total of four so far. She usually covers the eggs with feathers around mid-morning and roosts in the nestbox overnight.

Below is a very record shot I took this morning of the picture on the tv screen coming live from the nestbox camera. If you click on the picture to enlarge you can make out the four eggs in the bottom right hand corner. To be honest the nestbox camera was a fairly cheap one and the lens seems quite smeared so the photo is really quite blurred but at least it gives you an idea of what is happening at the moment.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Stone Griffins

I read an interesting story in the Birmingham Evening Mail last week about a group of 6 stone Griffin statues. Local residents are apparently taking steps to apply for a Heritage Lottery Bid to pay for the restoration of the statues.

When I gave my son a lift home from his office at Fort Dunlop on Easter Monday we made a detour on the way home to have a look at the statues.

At the beginning of the twentieth century the statues stood along the roof of the original Lewis's Department Store in Birmingham City Centre. When the building was demolished the statues were moved to Yorks Wood where 6 Griffins formed a line near the entrance to the wood. Each statue is about 8 to 10 feet high and each is slightly different from its companions.

I must admit I don't remember ever having seen the statues before but my husband knew all about them as he used to regularly attend scout camps in Yorks Wood when he was young.

In 1972 the Scout camp closed and much of the wood was lost (only a small remnant remains today) when a housing estate called Shard End was built but the Griffin statues remain to the present day.

Griffins are mythical Greek creatures with the body of a lion and the head and wings of an eagle. They were powerful and majestic legendary creatures that often guarded treasures.

There is a rumour, although no evidence has been found to support it, that the statues were given to the City of Birmingham by a Tsar of Russia.

It is interesting to read in a book called "Castle Bromwich in the Past - Part 2" by J. Dutton and C. Green that originally there were nine statues on the Lewis's building so where are the other 3? If anyone has seen any of the missing 3 Griffin statues in or around Birmingham I would love to hear from them.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

A Trip to the Theatre

Last night my son and I went to the newly renovated Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford as he had tickets for the play which has just opened.

The new theatre is great - I was worried it would be too large - but its a similar size and layout to the atmospheric Courtyard Theatre the Royal Shakespeare Company has been using whilst work was done on the main theatre. The new theatre is small and intimate and with seats surrounding 3 sides of the stage you feel part of the action. The location of the theatre is superb right on the banks of the River Avon.

We went to see Macbeth - the first major play to be performed in the newly opened theatre. It was a superb, although chilling, performance with great visual imagery and was set during Reformation times with a brilliant set. Its a play I have always wanted to see and it certainly lived up to expectations.

As some light relief from the horrors and evils of the play, there was a piece of comedy in one of the scenes with some action that made the audience jump out of their skins. The only part I wasn't sure about was the decision to portray the weird sisters as children which meant leaving out the usual atmospheric opening scene of the play. The appearance of the children suspended in mid-air as though hanging was a scene to make you shudder and the decision to use children to make the prophecies became clear later in the play. I won't say too much more in case anyone who visits this blog is planning a trip to see the play.

Monday, 25 April 2011

First blue tit egg, Waved Umber and Common Newts

When we checked the pictures from the nestbox camera this morning we were thrilled to see that the female blue tit had laid the first egg. This is 3 days earlier than last year when the first egg was laid on the 28th April. She has covered the egg with feathers and hasn't visited the nestbox much today but, going by last year's experience, she will lay an egg a day and only start incubating when she has finished laying and the clutch of eggs is complete.

I am still trying to identify two moths from Saturday night's mothing session - one is a carpet and the other either a large micro or a small macro and a definite LBJ of the moth world i.e. hard to identify! I trapped another two Shuttle-shaped Darts and a Waved Umber - see record shot below. Its a beautiful looking moth and I was hoping to get it to pose on some silver birch bark while I took a photo to show off the brilliant camouflage. As usual, it flew off almost immediately I opened the box so I was fortunate to get a photo at all!!!

Waved Umber

I spent half an hour or so at lunchtime trying to get some photos of the common/smooth newts (Lissotriton vulgaris) in the garden pond. Using the standard 14-42 mm lens was a waste of time so I tried the 70-300mm telephoto zoom lens with varying degrees of success. Some photos were taken with the camera handheld and some with me, camera and tripod leaning precariously over the water. The photos aren't brilliant as the water is not that clear and the sunlight on the water was making things even more difficult but the newts regularly come up to gulp air or take an insect and I was also able to watch the interaction between males and females (the males have their crests now) in the shallower water at the edge of the pond. There were at least six individual newts to be seen.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Where are the Moths?

It was mild last night and when I put out the moth trap is was still 17.9 degrees centigrade and the overnight minimum was 7.7 degrees so I hoped I might catch more moths than usual especially as so many species are appearing early due to the hot weather.

However, when I opened the trap this morning I found the grand total of two macros and two micros! One of the macros was a shuttle-shaped dart (see photo below), my first of the year and the other macro was one of the "nightmare to identify" pugs which promptly flew off as I tried to take a photo! It was well worn though and my chances of identifying it were probably zero anyway! Must admit I don't normally bother trying to id the micros (I find the macros enough of a challenge) unless they have particularly distinctive markings. This year, however, I will try and id the ones on the Garden Moth Scheme list but the two I caught last night didn't look like any on the list.

Shuttle-shaped Dart

Summary of Moths Trapped Friday 22nd April

8.30 p.m. until dawn. Minimum Temperature 7.7 degrees centigrade

15w Actinic Skinner Trap

1 x Shuttle-shaped Dart (NFY)

Total Number of species for 2011 = 12

It looks like another mild dry night so I've decided to run the trap again tonight in the hope there might be a few more moths about.

There might not be many moths around but there were quite a few butterflies in the garden again today - speckled wood, holly blue and the first Large White of the year bringing the list of butterflies seen in the garden this year to seven.

The blue tit nest in the nestbox now looks complete with feathers being added over the last few days and the female has been roosting overnight in the box. Looking back at the events of last year I think the first egg will be laid any day now.

Mrs. Blackbird has started to build a new nest but I have seen one young fledgling in the garden being fed by the male so it looks as though at least one of the first brood has survived so far.

Enjoy the rest of the Easter break!

Thursday, 21 April 2011

A Busy Brandon Marsh

I finally managed to fit in a quick visit to Brandon Marsh NR (Warwickshire Wildlife Trust's flagship reserve) this afternoon. It was very busy there today both with birds and people. Luckily, its a big reserve and its easy to get away from the crowds once you leave the main paths.

Highlights of the visit were 5 year ticks. I was really pleased to get a brief view of a kingfisher whirring low over the water and the common terns are back perched on poles near the tern nesting raft. There were several common whitethroats and a willow warbler seen as I walked around the back of Grebe Pool and I heard my first cuckoo.

I spent a lot of time taking photographs from the John Baldwin Hide which overlooks East Marsh Pool - I've found this the best hide over the last few visits for photography as the birds tend to come quite close.

As I opened the hide window I "surprised" a pair of Canada Geese who were on the bank right under the hide window. They may have been prospecting for a nest site as I remember them nesting on the bank at the side of this hide before.

One of the birds was less than impressed with my intrusion

and turned round to give me a dirty look!

He later returned to see if I had left!

Here's a poor record shot of a common tern - well it is heavily cropped and they were quite a long way away!

A pair of mallard were upending for food and preening just in front of the hide

Mallard may be common and familiar birds but I just love the colours of the drake

The pair of Great Crested Grebes were still around although there was no sign of any young or even a nest

Greylag Goose

There were a lot of spring flowers - marsh marigold, cowslip, bluebell, red campion, cuckoo flower/lady's smock, dandelions, violets, primroses, forget me nots and white dead nettle.

Primrose bank is now full of flowering plants

Bluebells in new Hare Covert

There were plenty of swallows about although I failed to see any sand martins. Here's a photo of one of the artificial nesting banks created by volunteers for the martins

There were lots of butterflies on the wing - brimstone, peacock, orange tip and speckled wood and several "whites" that were just too far away to positively identify.

A lovely walk around a beautiful reserve in the sunshine. The only downside were the number of dead road kill animals I saw during the journey - badger, fox, hedgehog, rabbit. This year I seem to have seen more dead mammals on my travels than live ones.