Hello & Welcome!

This is the new home for my online Blog, I'll update and add to it from time to time with posts of interest to me, and hopefully that will interest you also!
This is yet another learning curve to me, so hopefully there will be various improvements as I go along in areas of layout, variety of content, narrative and hopefully photographic imagery - Please revisit and comment as often as you like :)

Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Hopwood Woods & Rhodes Lodges LNR's

Being a birder with a general interest in nature and for making photographic records of the species I see, my two local nature reserves get fairly regular visits throughout the year. This is a blog of various shots I have taken over the last few visits in no particular order with regard to season or venue. First a little bit about the reserves and their habitat and flora;

Both venues have similarities, they both have small rivers running through broad-leaved mainly deciduous woodland and both are on the edge of a small township to the north of Manchester. 

Hopwood Woods is the quieter of the two reserves and has borders shared with open farmland and a golf course. In actual fact is it a group of smallish wooded areas, all closely linked with public footpaths. Even on a clear Winters day it is sometimes easy to forget just how close to Manchester I am.

Rhodes Lodges is a former industrial site, which has been 'returned to nature' the old mills being long-since demolished leaving little behind apart from their series of five mill-ponds or 'lodges'. One of these is currently maintained & used by a local angling group, there rest are largely left to their own devices. The rear of this site is bordered by open scrubland to its boundary with  the M60 Manchester Outer Ring Road. The well marked paths around the reserve are used for a wide variety of pass-times by local residents including horse-riders, mountain bikers and walkers so some of the paths frequently become very churned up and muddy!

In Autumn these paths can be a great place to spot a wide variety of fungi, from tiny puff-balls, with their 'laughing faces' once they have dispersed their spores, to the glossy topped toadstools shown below.


Try as I might, I've still yet to find my favourite fungi, the stunningly coloured red and white-spotted Fly Agaric at either of these reserves. Although I have spoken to fellow fungi enthusiasts on my walks who swear they can regularly be found in autumn!

Wherever there are broad leafed woodlands, there are guaranteed to be grey squirrels, and much as I think these litle guys are cute, I'd much rather have our native red squirrels around.

Both reserves have their fare share of these furry tailed little mammals scampering through the boughs, or foraging for morsels buried the previous autumn, and I have to admit it's hard to resist taking the odd shot of them!

Being aware of nature and your immediate surroundings as you wander round occasionally means your eye will be drawn to something slightly more unusual in the undergrowth. This small snail made for an easy target with my camera, though sometimes it may well be a larger creature, such as this red fox which watched me warily as I passed through its territory, albeit at a distance. Rumour has it that there are deer in Hopwood woods, though I have yet to spot one.

Over the nest few months I hope to spend some more time on 'field craft' in these two reserves. I intend to just sit and watch particular points of interest, in the hope of learning a little more about the behaviour of the inhabitants. Particular interest will be finding the elusive Kingfisher, and studying a couple of the woodland birds - namely the woodpeckers & treecreepers.

Back round at the Lodges, there is a good range of birdlife to be found, Canada geese have become somewhat of a nuisance, though Mute swans and the occasional Grey lag goose stand their ground. 

Recently there has been an influx of Tufted Duck - Aythya fuligula to compete with the ever present Mallard - Anas platyrhynchos which are always a delightful sight in spring with their stripey ducklings in tow. 
Grey Heron - Ardea cinerea are also regular visitors to the lodge edges.

Relatively new arrivals in recent years have been the Goosanders - Mergus merganser and Great Crested Grebe - Podiceps cristatus.

 I have to admit that my favourite birds are those of the woodland & hedgerows - probably a throwback to my childhood upbringing in rural Cheshire. That being the case I am fortunate that both LNR's show evidence of woodpeckers, although I have only ever seen Greater Spotted woodpeckers - Dendrocopos major at Hopwood, where I know them to nest. 

Treecreepers - Certhia familiaris can be found at both venues, and last year I was fortunate enough to spend several hours watching a very industrious pair as they built their nest in the crevice behind the bark of an old birch tree. 

Perhaps my current favourite woodland bird is the Nuthatch, which so far, I have only found at Hopwood.

Both reserves have extensive and interesting bird species listed as sightings. These include Redwing, Little Owl, Tawny Owl, Fieldfare, Waxwing, Kingfisher, Grey wagtail & Woodcock.

Whenever I go to any local nature reserve I endeavour to leave a supply of bird food for them to find - in the hope that it will encourage them to hang around so that next time I see more, and get better shots. Other than that, my motto regarding wildlife is '"Take only pictures, leave only footprints"

Thank you for reading.

Monday, 30 January 2012

Llanrhaeadr in North Wales is a place I last visited over 30 years ago, and my memories were a tad faded, so when the Birding Group I’m a member of announced an excursion to the area I was keen to revisit. The day itself was glorious, with sunshine throughout. As we gathered at the carpark around 10am, it was clear that a ‘hike’ rather than our more regular sedate walks was in the offing – I know that my fitness levels have plummeted recently, in the following 5 or so hours I realised just how unfit I was! Initial views of the famed Llanrhaeadr Waterfalls brought back those faded memories:

Our first excursion took us beneath the broad leafed trees where the first spring ferns could be seen uncurling from their winter slumber, and though we did spot Pied Flycatchers here they proved impossible to get decent shots of as they darted amongst the foliage.
Redstart - Phoenicurus phoenicurus

Heading back through the car park, one of our members identified a Redstart - Phoenicurus phoenicurus singing high up on the topmost boughs of a tree in the distance, as we quartered the ground trying to get closer, I managed to find a vantage point to try for a shot. I was quite happy with the result considering the distance!

We then headed out, and the nature of our walk slowly became clearer as we passed outcroppings of granite and scree slopes of slate. One of our more knowledgeable companions pointed out some Parsley Fern – apparently a specialist plant, highly adapted to growing in the exposed scree slopes we were crossing.

The vegetation changed slowly as we climbed, turning to gorse and bracken dotted with sheep-scrapes. Along the path we spotted several Dung Beetles in their ‘natural habitat’ and did our best to avoid destroying their ‘home

 Although the background chorus of migrant birdsong and the lush vegetation proved that Spring was well and truly upon us, we found reminders of the recent harsh winter too. This desiccated frog, clearly a recent victim of the elements.

Meadow Pipits - Anthus pratensi

The bracken proved an excellent background to the camouflaged Meadow Pipits - Anthus pratensis we could hear singing all around us, but occasionally one stood higher so I fired off a few shots, albeit it a huge distance!

Meadow Pipits - Anthus pratensis
Male Wheatear - Oenanthe oenanthe

The Wheatear - Oenanthe oenanthe proved slightly more co-operative in their willingness to have their pictures taken, although this one was also being very wary of the falcon which circled lazily above from time to time. There were also several female Wheatear in the vicinity, and he occasionally became distracted!

After what seemed to me like a mega-hike, we finally returned to the café at the carpark where we enjoyed a good selection of home-made cakes and warm drinks, before one final walk down to the waterfall and setting off back home.

This was not one of my better photo-excursions, and most of the shots I took during the day were a huge disappointment to me, but I hope you have enjoyed the few I have used here. Although a touch isolated, I certainly intend visiting this site again – and not leaving it another 30+ years!