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 :)

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Going to the Zoo

A friend and I decided that this year, we would have one day per month getting out and about, and so make the most of our infrequent and erratic days off. Last month was a sculpture day touring several installations in the North West of England. This month, with the weather hopefully improving, we decided that Chester Zoo was the place to go.

Chester is my favourite Zoo, with emphasis on conservation and breeding of endangered species, whilst supporting field work and support projects in countries around the world. On-going improvements at Chester have seen huge redevelopment over recent years, providing ever more impressive facilities for animals in their care, as well as the human visitors.

After watching the weather forecast for the day, it was clear we were in for one of the first days of Spring, with continuous sunshine and temperatures in the mid-to-high-teens throughout the day. Arriving at the main gate just after opening time (10am) it became apparent that we weren't the only ones who had targetted Chester as their day-trip destination.

On passing through the main gates, the main compound directly facing the gate is for the ever impressive Indian Elephants. Within their enclosure are various stimuli for them to enjoy, including a waterfall and pool to cool down. The regular breeding of Chesters Elephants give testimony to the care and attention these huge animals receive from their keepers.

The Rhino never seen to attract quite so much attention as the Elephants, perhaps the reason for that is their reputation for being both solitary, and aggressive - but for me they have a certain pre-historic charm - a resemblance to those ancient Triceratops with their horned heads
Chester covers a huge area, with over 110 acres of land, and to be honest the map isn't that accurate, it is very easy to wander around, get distracted and miss animals out, having to double back later and re-trace your steps once you realise!

High on our list of 'Must-See's' were the big cats. One of Chester's specialties are the Asiatic Lions, and the Spring sunshine was clearly very welcome to the big male.

Tigers are always a huge attraction at any zoo or safari park, never less so than when they have cubs. Due to the undergrowth and fencing it prove impossible to get pictures of Mum, but we could just about see one of the cubs in the shade.

Included amongst the species of 'Big-Cats' are the not-so-big Servals, one which I always struggle to get decent shots of due to their continued pacing, or them being hidden. Today was no exception, and it took several attempts and setting adjustments before I managed to get one I was happy with.
The relatively recent addition of the Jaguar house brought four Jaguars to the UK, three of the spotted version...

 And one pure black - although in the sunshine the spots were still clearly discernable in the fur of this magnificant cat.
Even big cats play sometimes!
But running the Tigers a close second for my vote for 'Favorite Big Cat' has to be the fastest land mammal - The Cheetahs.

For me, Cheetah encapsulate poise, elegance and arrogance - They know they are both fast and beautiful.
On from the big cats and around to the monkeys and apes, again it is the apes which attract the majority of the attention here.

The Spider Monkeys with their prehensile tails and aerial gymnastics never cease to fascinate and amuse!

Although at times their expressions of curiosity can be equally endearing!

Chester has an outstanding record as a 'centre of excellence' for breeding Orang-Utan from both Borneo & Sumatra - sadly due to the crowds they attract this means that is always difficult to get pictures inside, but blessed with the weather as we were yesterday, one Mum had chosen to venture outside with her infant.

And although Mum was stayed well hidden in the undergrowth, junior seemed more than happy grazing the vegetation in full view.
Some of our nearest evolutionary relatives are the Chimpanzees, and it is difficult not to feel a certain empathy with them as the teenagers square up to each other in fits of bravado.

Concerned mother heading away from the argument which had broken out between a couple of young males.

She was however still keeping an eye on the fracas she had left behind.
This old guy seemed unconcerned, apparently having "Seen it all before"

Another of my favourite animals at Chester are the Red Panda, they are hidden out of the way near the old main entrance, which to me is sad, as they really are endearing characters.
Just for once, they weren't curled up asleep in one of their trees, but wandring around their enclosure, doing their very best to keep their backs to me. But the lure of a piece of apple persuaded one of them to come close enough to capture this shot!

 And then we were off in search of what has surely become one of the most recognised small mammals on the planet, thanks to a certain insurance search-company.

We arrived just as the Meerkats were being fed and a brief talk was being given to a group of children. This adult was however still maintaining a lookout.

And the infants were doing their best to mimic the stance and looking exceptionally cute whilst doing so!!

It is kind of difficult to watch the youngsters, and not mutter 'Simples' under your breath!

Back across the globe to South America, where spring was clearly in the air for the worlds largest rodent

The Capybara clearly had 'other things' on their minds - well the male definately had!
There was quite a lot of nervous foot shuffling and throat clearing as little Johnnie asked "What are they doing mummy"

Still in South America, these Andean or Spectacled Bears were busy searching out chunks of apple which the keeper had just thrown randomly around their enclosure.

The head markings on this bear demonstrate how they got one of their common names.

One of the areas I had been most keep to visit was the Butterfly house - an open indoor enclosure where the butterflies are free-flying in search of nectar-rich flowers and suitable sites upon which to deposit their eggs.I have to admit to not having a clue what any of the Butterflies were, or anything about therm, but there is something very ethereal about them as they weave and chase through the trees and shrubs of their very humid walk-through enclosure. The shapes, sizes and colours of those which we saw were fascinating and intriguing. From those looking for all the world like a dead leaf (top left) to those which were almost completely transparent (Centre), eyespots, intricate mosaics and garish bright colours were all on display. And just for once the heat outside actually meant my camera didn't promptly steam up as we came inside - so I was finally able to capture some pics of these excellent creatures!

 But perhaps my favourite shot of the day was actually taken almost at the start of our world safari, but I think it summed up the mood of the day - Amazement, wonder & curiosity or pure bemusement? You decide! 

Thanks for reading

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Leighton Moss 25/02/12


Some of the great things about birding are never knowing quite what you are going to glimpse, how close you are going to get, or if you can get a half reasonable shot.

Sometimes you can arrive at a hide 2 minutes after the 'rarity of the day' flew out of sight - or like on this day, just as the Bittern flew by, with barely a chance to point the camera, let alone press the shutter!

 Personally I think Chaffinches are one of our most overlooked and colourful little 'garden' birds - this one was waiting his turn at the feeders.
 Leighton Moss always has a good number of Greenfinch hanging around the feeders.
 Once you venture away from the main building and onto the many paths you may get lucky and spot of of Leightons specialties.. the Marsh Tit.
Or a Great Tit, one of the other varieties seen here in abundance.

 Though standing or sitting quietly near a pre-baited tree may reward you with great views of the excellently camouflaged Tree-Creeper - or even my favourite woodland bird - the colourful Nuthatch

RSPB Leighton Moss has never yet disappointed with its open waters frequented by Otters, the expansive reed beds with their wild Red Deer or it's wide variety of resident and migrant birds. A great day out - get there early enough in autumn, and you may even get lucky and spot their Bearded Tits!

Slimbridge 11/03/2012

11th March saw me head off down to the WWT at Slimbridge to meet up with the birding group I'm a member of. There followed good banter within the group and a great days birding enjoyed by all, though many of the birds were out of my current lens's range.
 The weather throughout the day was excellent, early spring sunshine encouraging this first Comma Butterfly of the year to sunbathe. The first baby rabbits were also seen on one of the cleared grass-ways through the reed beds.
  But birds were what I'd travelled all the way to Slimbridge to see... So we took the hints and followed the signs.
Our first spot inside the reserve was this Woodpigeon making the most of the brilliant sun, whilst posing on an ivy clad fence.
 Wandering around the many hides and viewing screens, we managed to catch a good look at a Water Rail, busy raiding a very large fat-block before scurrying back into the reed-beds, only to re-emerge a few minutes later.
 It was good to see this Greenfinch making the most of the human-supplied seed as they have largely disappeared from the area around me.
But water birds are what Slimbridge is famous for, and we were not disappointed, this male Pochard looking resplendent in black, grey and maroon.

 There were many Shelduck around and clearly those first spring rays were turning their minds to 'other things' as there was much displaying and posturing going on -
 This worked well, as it enabled me to get a few shots of this striking drake.
 Even the frequently overlooked Moorhens were shaping up nicely for breeding
 Greylags were already paired up and patrolling their chosen patches
 Stopping to take a closeup 'gander' at the nosey person with the camera - they are quite intimidating from only a metre or so away!

I'm not quite sure what this Rook was trying to prove by balancing on a feeder, but he didn't seem to be having much success eating the contents - maybe it was just Spring high jinx or  'Joie de vivre'!
It was a strange time of year to be visiting neither Winter nor Summer, but somewhere in the no-mans-land in between. This was one of the last of the winter flock of Bewick's Swans still here, sadly a poor shot having been taken through non too clean double glazing! These had crossed over with four early arriving Avocets - sadly only visible in the far distance with the more powerful scopes.

Our day-list consisted of 49 species, with the Water Rail winning the 'bird of the Day' award from those present

Slimbridge was somewhere I'd not visited before, but definately one I'll be visiting again!