Close to home

This is all a bit embarrassing: it’s a sorry tale of indifference, bordering on neglect.

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Broad Bodied Chaser Dragonfly

There’s a forest within about 20 minutes drive of my front door. I knew it was there, had skirted the fringes of it on any number of occasions, but never believed it was really a forest; not a proper one. From a position of pretty much total ignorance, I’d dismissed it as “more of a decent-sized wood”. Well, turns out I was wrong: it’s a proper forest all right – one of the largest remaining tracts of ancient woodland in Britain – extending to more than 26 square kilometres. I could have easily researched all of this, but – already convinced that I knew of plenty of better places to spend a day – didn’t take the trouble.

We were really only persuaded to pay a visit to the area, back in early spring, on the recommendation of an acquaintance, suggesting it as a place where we might possibly get to see – among other things – lesser spotted woodpeckers. With their small size, increasing scarcity, and penchant for living out most of the year among the dense foliage of the uppermost branches, these birds are becoming increasingly difficult to find, even more so to actually see.

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Pied Flycatchers – one arriving, one departing. Photograph taken at distance and on high ASA setting to compensate for semi-darkness in wood – hence the dubious quality!

As are adders, with their heightened sensitivity to vibration and inclination to slide away into the dense undergrowth long before you would ever know they were there. So we considered ourselves pretty fortunate to have clear sight of three of them within the space of a couple of visits; not to mention by far the largest grass snake either of us had ever seen. And then a tawny owl – out, and seemingly hunting, in broad daylight; possibly the consequences of a hungry brood and a disappointing return during the hours of darkness (it had been extremely wet throughout most of the night).

Although, if there had to be a vote for industry and persistence, it would probably go to the pied flycatchers: male and female, double-teaming to deliver a never-ending supply of small insects; coordinating their arrivals and departures so that the nest box was never unattended for more than a few seconds.

And the woodpecker tip turned out to be sound: we have a tendency to stick to the quieter paths and happened to be in just the right place when a small bird (no bigger than a chaffinch) broke cover and headed for the top of a dead – and therefore defoliated – tree; just far enough away to remain unfazed by our presence and close enough to be definitely identifiable through the binoculars. Sometimes a bit of luck can be the deciding factor!

If there’s a moral to any of this, it’s probably not to overlook what’s virtually on our own doorsteps. Particularly as less driving means more time to wander and explore.

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Flycatcher pausing briefly before returning with food

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Feeding: the beak of a flycatcher chick is just visible

 

Hay Festival 2016

SONY DSCThe Hay Festival isn’t an annual pilgrimage for me, even though, after every visit, I promise myself it will become one. That’s really because every time I do make the effort to attend, I leave already looking forward to the next time. But sometimes life – that unruly, incoherent mess of other commitments, conflicting priorities, disarray and (when time permits) even a little inertia – conspires against returning quite as quickly as I might have hoped. And of course there always has to be an event or two worth attending; it would be an unusual year when that wasn’t the case.

My overriding impression of Hay during festival week is that it would be very difficult to spend time around the place and not find yourself in a good mood. Artists – some of them familiar faces, others less so – mingle comfortably with the crowds, whether it be inside the festival grounds or simply meandering around the town. On a previous visit I exchanged affable nods and greetings with Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour as if we were a couple of neighbours passing in the street. This year I bumped into George Monbiot taking some time out on the river bank. Obviously good weather helps, and it was certainly a riverbank kind of day.

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Gibraltar point – Wednesday 1st June, 2016

Unremittingly, uncompromisingly hostile, in that way that can typify the north sea coast when the mood takes it. Cloud: grey, unbroken; wind: persistent, strong; sufficiently strong to skim a blinding, sand-blast layer from the surface of the dunes and make walking an uncertain, faltering activity, even for adults. And, just for good measure, it is a north-easterly; sometimes the weather can feel almost personal.

And yet, somehow, a little tern – probably weighing no more than 50 gms (and I admit I had to ‘google’ that) – manages to manoeuvre, hold its position, and even fly against the full force of the wind. The shoreline birds, which are undoubtedly present in numbers at this time of year, are more to be heard than seen, although a few reed buntings manage to make headway from one patch of cover to the next and swallows are airborne – as they always seem to be.

DSCN0749The coastline has an oddly familiar feel about it; probably a consequence of our acquired taste for ‘Scandi noir’. It wouldn’t be entirely surprising to round a corner and be met by a contemplative Kurt Wallander.

A new visitor centre has risen from the devastation of the tidal surge in December of 2013. The recently opened building is elevated on stilts as protection against any similar occurrences in future and allows extensive views of the mixed habitat, which extends to saltmarsh, dunes and shoreline. The dunes form part of a constantly regenerating system – new ones already having become established in the wake of the 2013 storm damage.

 

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 The Gibraltar Point Reserve is one of a number managed by the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust

Released into the wild…

I don’t know if there’s ever an ideal time to allow a blog to simply venture out and take its chances; particularly after an extended captivity.

It’s been almost a year since the process began: the upping of sticks, relocating, transferring the stuff to be retained, jettisoning what was to be discarded and, although there’s more to be done, it felt like time to get back to the point of having a blog – actually posting stuff!

So, somewhere in the settings, private has been amended to public; which is pretty much all there is to it.

Is there anybody out there?