I have heard much about the Bluebell spectacle that adorns English woodland during Spring, but never had I realised what are marvel it was until this past week. Taking a stroll through Kings Wood, which is nestled between Sanderstead, Hamsey Green and Old Farleigh in Surrey has always been a relaxing time-out, but the emergence of the Bluebells has given the woodland an air of wonder. The bluebells carpet the woodland floor going as far as they eye can see. Below are a few photos from a series which I’ve taken.
For more photos in this series checkout the Bluebell Gallery.
I’ve said it numerous times in previous posts that it never ceases to amaze me the richness of urban wildlife in London and it’s surrounding boroughs. Well, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, I’m going to say the same again in this post.
To put this post in perspective, I must mention that I grew up on the south coast of NSW, Australia – a country, as you know, famous for it’s diverse & rather unique flora and fauna. Wildlife was never too far away from home, with national park bush-land being minutes away in the car – but despite this when it came to our back garden, a major mammal event didn’t go beyond our cat, Patchy, chasing an errant field mouse. Yes, there were encounters with a few reptiles, like the ubiquitous little skinks that zap too and fro on the porch, and to the less frequent, once in a blue moon appearance, of the slovenly blue-tongued lizard. Unlike other Australian households which encroached on bush, we didn’t have the privilege or annoyance of a possum in our roof or a visit from a wallaby. No, we were in the Aussie ‘burbs.
In the somewhat larger ‘burb of London, however, encounters with wildlife appear to be the norm. Last year, perhaps making up for the absence of a childhood “possum-in-the-roof” experience, I blogged my chagrin about the family of grey squirrels living in our eaves and breaching my loft. And that was in London. We recently moved further out into neighbouring Surrey, and the urban mammals have just gotten larger. Foxes! Red Foxes in fact.
For a while I’ve noticed an adult fox sauntering through the undergrowth at the sides of our house, and on occasion stopping to rest under the swings in our back garden, usually in late evening. I have been endeavouring to take a photo, as she seemed quite predictable in her movements, but alas, by the time I had camera in hand, she had scarpered under the hedge at the back of the garden. I did finally manage to get a photograph through the conservatory window a fortnight ago, in rather bad light, as you can see below. But, I wasn’t content with this shot. Light poor, far too much grain and not sharp. I was resolute to take better photos.
Foxing the Fox
The challenge become even more titillating, when last week, the fox numbers multiplied. My wife took a photo of the same adult fox, but this time with 4 young cubs (or kits as is the other name for a fox young’n). As the squirrels had invaded our territory in inner London, these foxes seem to have claimed our back garden as their own. The shot below was taken with a Canon Digital Elph point and shoot camera, through our kitchen window.
In observing them in the late evenings, these cubs turn our back garden into a veritable playground. They spend a good hour play-fighting and rooting through our shrubs, occasionally tossing one of our garden bed lights aside when it gets in their way. Then on the weekend, I happened to have camera to hand in anticipation and this vixen and two of her brood decided to play underneath our back garden swings in the late evening sun. Much better light, and they were quite relaxed. Below were two photos I took.
Vixen and Cub
I was naturally happier with these photos, but I know I’m not going to get sharper unless I get a longer lens, or indeed set up a camera on tripod with remote trigger. I may try the latter in the coming weeks. I’ll make the most of viewing their antics, as come later in the summer we plan a repair of the rear fence, which will end their back garden incursions.
Today is the 28th September. A date significant in my family, because it marks the 41st wedding anniversary of my parents and also the 40th birthday of my sister-in-law, Meredith. It is also the day that seems to bring stunning crimson sunsets to London’s skies. This evening on my way home I noticed that the vault of the sky was cut by elegant wafts of orange and pink cloud. As I neared home, I caught the western panorama – and these clouds were scythed by the contrails of aircraft – and as you gazed towards the horizon, the clouds morphed into an undulating orange. It was truly sublime.
My initial thought with today’s photo was that these colours are quite typical of an autumnal sunset in London. This, because I had taken a similar photo last year. It was not easy to forget it, a stunning scene of crisscrossing crimson contrails. But after comparing both photos, I noticed that by pure coincidence that last year’s photo was also taken on the evening of September 28th – from the very same vantage point of my front bedroom window. Take a look at the two photographs. No doubt, the 2008 shot had more impressive contrails – but both are beautiful in their own right. One clear difference, is that this year’s shot was taken with a Canon 5D2 and a 70-300mm lens, and last years was a Canon 20D with an 18-55mm lens. Both photos have had very basic post-processing applied (levels and sharpness), so the colours are representative of the actual sunset.
In any case, it is a special day, so – happy anniversary Mum and Dad, and happy birthday Merrie.
Margaret and I have been big fans of the ITV drama, Doc Martin for some time. In short the TV series is a rather quirky English comedy drama about an awkward doctor (played by Martin Clunes) coming to terms with himself and that of the fictitious fishing hamlet of Port Wenn, Cornwall. In actual fact, the azure cove of Port Wenn, is none other than the Cornish fishing village of Port Isaac. So, given we had been in Cornwall taking a break this past week, we decided to visit the place.
From the white washed cottages, to the steep paths to the town centre, to its opal harbour, edged by verdant cliffs, the village is instantly recognisable. What took us a little by surprise though was to learn that the filming for the 4th series of Doc Martin was underway. We had thought the series had finished, but apparently not so. Quite obvious really. Camera equipment and logistics crew were aplenty, and as too were the many tourists hopeful of a glimpse of the cast. And it was a fleeting glimpse – at least initially. Filming was underway in the playground of Port Wenn school (which actually is a small car-park outside an old school hall), and amidst all the flurry of film crew and school children for the scene, we caught the unmistakable pony-tail of Doc Martin’s love interest, Louisa (Caroline Catz). Only a glimpse as the Port Wenn school bus was obscuring most of the view from errant tourists like ourselves.
But, thankfully, we got to witness some filming at much closer quarters shortly after having a light lunch in the Mote pub. The landlord informed more filming was underway literally 10 paces from the pub right at the vertex of the town. So, Margaret and I ventured outside the pub looking for the outdoor set, just as the film crew began rolling their equipment down the hill. The landlord was right. Literally, filming was taking place metres from the door of the pub. Soon after, we recognised two more of Doc Martin’s cast. This time, none other than that of father-and-son duo Bert and Al Large. Bert is played by actor Ian McNeice and Al is played by Joe Absolom. As the prep for the scene unfolded, we were astounded as to how close we all were. While great care was taken by the film crew to ensure no tourist onlookers got in the way of the shot, we were still essentially a live audience. I can’t recall ever being on a movie-set before so this was a new experience, and thankfully one I was able to readily photograph.
I was really very happy with some of the shots of Ian and Joe I managed to capture, particularly Ian, whose face seemed to be churning out expression after expression as he immersed himself in character. Below are the shots I took. I decided to go with a monochrome finish, to give it that classic film feel.
I have to say I enjoyed the opportunity to act as Papparazzi for the afternoon. Not just because they were actors, but because I had the chance to practice taking some spontaneous people photos. It wasn’t just a case of point and shoot, but rather waiting for that opportunity where the subject gives an interesting expression or pose. I have to say Ian McNeice was an excellent subject for doing just that.
Oh and unfortunately, Martin Clunes was not around that day, so no pictures of the series draw card on this occasion.
It’s almost 3 years since Margaret and I were on safari in Tanzania, an experience never to be forgotten and one for which I hope to do again sometime. Well, my aspiration was somewhat met recently, on a visit to West Midlands Safari Park – about a 25km drive west of Birmingham, near the town of Bewdley, in Worstershire. For the most part it is a drive-thru safari park, allowing you and your vehicle to literally rub shoulders with some otherwise shoulder-tearing wildlife. I hadn’t high expectations of the place, given being on safari in the heart of England, just didn’t seem quite right. But, amazingly the park presented a number of surprises with the proximity it gave us to many animals, and namely the Big Cats. In fact, for a number of animals, it put us closer than that we experienced in Tanzania. Take the cheetah for example. In the surrounds of so much wildlife in the Ngorongoro Crater, we came across a lone cheetah, on it’s haunches peering through golden grasses – nearly camouflaged save for the cavalcade of safari jeeps already observing and pointing it out for us. That cheetah was viewed at a distance of about 30 metres away. In West Midland Safari Park, however, we were put within 5 metres of one – as is demonstrated in this shot below.
Of course, not all the animals were allowed to roam freely in the park. Despite you being in your vehicle, several of the larger cats were still within wired enclosures. This proved a bit of a photography challenge, but I was amazed at a couple of the opportunities that presented themselves. Take for example, that of the White Tiger. I was hopeful of just one full body shot of this magnificent cat, without it being obscured by its wire boundary, but to my good fortune, a white tiger sat on a small mound, gazing into the air with the breeze in it’s face. Looking at this photo below you would not think you were in a wildlife park in the middle of England. The colours give it a surreal air.
Of course no experience of a white tiger is complete, without that of a white lion. Must admit, I thought the white lion was the reserve of cartoon fiction, but they do exist. The white lion is native to a small region of South Africa, and is distinctly a blonder shade than that of its central African cousin. We watched a couple of white lions play with one another for a good 10 minutes. Below is a sample of one of many shots I took.
The most comical event of the day, came towards the end of the drive-thru, when passing the enclosure of the Bengal Tiger. This part of the park allowed you to wind your windows down of the car, despite the wired area being no different to that of it’s white cousin. So, as I took a photo of one large Bengal Tiger pacing the perimeter fence, mere feet from the car, we were all quite nonplussed when a splatter of water hit the car in a flick of a ginger tail. Not quite water actually, but urine. The beast had taken a liking to both car and occupants and we officially became a part of it’s territory. My passengers were shocked, astounded, in hysterics. My car, for which I had barely owned for a week, had just been Christened by a Bengal Tiger, in the heart of England. Now, there was a random event, if ever there was to be a random event. Below is the shot I took of the tiger’s profile, moments before it sprayed us.
Stripes, Bengal Tiger, West Midlands Safari Park
The cats of West Midlands Safari Park, weren’t all reserved for the drive through enclosures. They saved, arguably their most magnificent cat for the pedestrian part of the park. This park is a bit fun-fare like and quite tacky. However, it is saved by the reptile house and the Amur Leopard enclosure. The Amur Leopard, a native to eastern Russia and northern Mongolia is a beautiful animal. Very distinctly a leopard, like it’s African cousin which we had seen a number of times in the Serengeti – however, the most noticeable difference was its thick tail.
All in all a great day out at the Safari Park. I would highly recommend a visit. It hasn’t gone so far as to quell that desire to see more of Africa, but it at least gave me some practice photographing some wildlife at a safe distance. For all of the above photos, I used a Canon 5D Mark II SLR with a 70-300mm IS lens.
You can see this and more of the photos taken at West Midlands Safari Park here.
Well, after doing a little bit of research, I came across a rather useful site for identifying birds. Thanks to the RSPB, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, I’ve identified the mysterious backyard bird in the photo below (and previous post) as none other than the Jay. The Jay below looks rather scruffy compared with some of the more finely groomed images on the RSPB site. This may be the reason, it looked a bit too exotic to be a common bird. But, nonetheless the markings are unmistakably that of a Jay. For more information on the Jay, go to the RSPB Jay Factsheet.
What is really interesting from reading the fact sheet on the Jay, is that they are notorious for their acorn eating habits, and are known to bury them. Well, that solves another mystery. Recently, while gardening, we came across an acorn buried at least 2 inches deep in the soil of one of our larger pot plants. We had accused the much maligned squirrel for ferreting away an acorn like that. Accusation retracted. The Jay is remarkably shy too, which explains why I’ve never seen one before. Will keep my eyes peeled for a return visit.
A Jay, No doubt eyeing his acorn stash in our back garden, London, UK
At lunch time today, after just taking a photo of my blooming rose, I had just sat back down in my conservatory when I heard a flurry of feathers. I ducked my head out and saw this amazing bird perched on the garden fence. Luckily the 5D2 SLR was still to hand and I snapped the shots below, just before the bird flew off. The blue plumage and blue ringed eyes are quite unusual for your average suburban London bird. I will have to do some research to see what bird this is. If anyone knows, please do comment below. Growing up in Australia I saw an abundance of unique fauna in the backyard, from galahs to sulphur-crested cockatoos, but London equally never ceases to amaze with its abundance of urban wildlife, be it a cheeky squirrel in the eaves, or a sly fox wreaking havoc with the garbage bins.
Mysterious Visitor, London, UK
Bird on Garage Roof, London, UK
I visited Thursley Common this morning, a welcome photography distraction amidst the spoils of sunshine and 2 bank holiday barbeques. Thursley Common is in Surrey, surprisingly very near the village of Thursley, about 8km south of Guildford. Thursley is one of the most significant heathlands in the UK, care of the fact that it is home to a number of England’s reptiles. Well, just about all of them really, from the adder to the rare green sand lizard.
I was hopeful of seeing some lizards scurry across one of the boardwalks which allow you a civilised stroll over otherwise rugged bog and heath. Alas not this time, but I was however, still fascinated by the vast number of dragonflies hovering and darting over shallow ponds. (There are 26 species of dragonfly in Thursley) For a moment, I thought it would be a futile to attempt to photograph them, but one or two obliged to settle on the occasional blade of grass. Below are some of the pictures I took. If you’re like me, you probably wouldn’t give a dragonfly much attention, but when captured thru a lens, then it does reveal a striking, if not surreal fairy like creature. I used my 70-300mm lens, and while okay, I think really a macro lens would have served me better. I shall return.
Lord of the Flies, Dragonfly, Thursley Common
Dragonflies Squared, Thursley Common
Resting Dragonfly, Thursley Common
Every now again you take a photo which says a profound amount. London, like any big city has many homeless people, of which in the course of a busy life I normally don’t pay much attention to. Exception being Sunday week ago, when in Trafalgar Square, I was drawn to this unkempt bloke taking off worn out shoes to massage his equally worn out feet.
Homeless Figure, Trafalgar Square, London, UK