Peanut Party

I did try putting out some peanuts, quite a while ago now, in the hope that I might interest one of our local badgers. Unfortunately, I found out that foxes, who tend to pitch up earlier, also like peanuts. Since I’d put them out in a modest pile, the fox, I think, vacuumed up most of the peanuts.

This time we adopted the approach of scattering peanuts liberally all over what passes in our back garden for grass. We’re [that is Francine] trying to leave the grass in the hope of benefitting the smaller wildlife. The longer grass made searching for the peanuts necessary.

Fox and Badger-1The scattering approach seemed much more successful. We had both badger and fox, peacefully co-existing and snuffling around in the grass for tasty morsels.

Actually, it was in one respect a little too successful since it took quite a while to find all the peanuts and I ended up with over 40 video clips to work through. Still, better than having none, eh?

Posted in 2021 Fox Tales

Last Full Day

Just to complete the saga, our last day was a bit mixed with a fairly stiff breeze but occasional spells of sunshine (plus a rain shower).

We met with a friend who used to belong to our photographic club, who now lives in Norfolk, and introduced him to another boggy slice of his adopted home county, Alderfen. Having found Variable Damselflies (Coenagrion pulchellum) at How Hill NNR yesterday, I was keen to see if any had emerged at Alderfen, just for the county records.

Alderfen (2 of 3)After a VERY slow start spotting just two fleeing Large Red Damselflies (Pyrrhosoma nymphula), things looked up a bit when I spotted two Variables in a grassy patch just as Francine spotted two more beside a small inlet. They were keeping very low down in the vegetation to shelter from the wind and I don’t blame them. Male Variables generally have a broken antehumeral stripe, said to look like an exclamation mark. This one has such a broken stripe that it looks more like a full colon. Well, they ARE variable.

Alderfen (3 of 3)Further along the stream track at last a Large Red Damselfly posed long enough for for those of us who wanted to to get a crack at it; it  still kept low down but at least it wasn’t obscured.

Orange Tip on DandelionAlmost back at the cars an unusually cooperative Orange Tip butterfly (Anthocharis cardamines) sat on a particularly photogenic dandelion clock and that got all three of us excited. Francine even managed to catch a glimpse of orange with the wings partially open.

It had eventually been better than expected but ‘t was time to retire to the pub and reminisce over a pint or two. Well, the pub is right next door to our campsite.

Posted in 2021-05 Norfolk

Relative Bliss

After an absolutely awful day of wind and lashing rain that kept us firmly ensconced in our caravan, today’s forecast suggested 20°C accompanied by a good amount of sunshine. Well, after a pathetic spring like this, we’d take anything we could get. We would, however, have too be very careful about the ground which was already waterlogged even before yesterday’s biblical drenching.

One of the nicer wildlife havens in this neck of the woods is How Hill NNR, which we chose to head for. With spring being this late, there were only likely to be two species in evidence but after a desperately boring English winter, that was worth a go.

We managed to negotiate the single track approach road and were stunned by the amount of cars in the car park. We’ve never seen it this full. All the stir-crazy folk in Norfolk were out on an isolated sunny Sunday. Who could blame them? Mercifully, they all seemed to be picnicking on the grass rather than invading the wildlife reserve which you must pay to enter. We happily paid our fee in Toad Hole and left all others behind – just us and the critters. Well, us, the critters and a salted caramel ice cream for Francine.

How Hill Variable female-211819No more than 10m inside the gate we saw our first customers and our second species of the season: Variable Damselflies (Coenagrion pulchellum). They weren’t cooperating well but it was great to see them, especially as they are as rare as rocking horse shit back home. Later on our circuit we did find a more cooperative female [don’t say it – I won’t if you won’t].

How Hill Large Red-211799Our Wellington boots served us well as we squelched our way around parts of the reserve. This place can be boggy at the  best of times and these were definitely not the best of times. Half way around we hit the motherlode of Large Red Damselflies (Pyrrhosoma nymphula). Among a series of record shots, one of these was clearly a damselfly with a sense of theatre and struck for me a wonderful pose. Such things happen rarely but they are a joy when they do.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANothing more of note happened until we returned to our car in the crowded car park. As we were changing back into comfortable foot wear from wellies, Francine announced that she had picked up a hitchhiker. ‘T was a beetle and a new one to us at that. I had, of course, packed away my cameras but this was worth getting them out again, wearing one wellie and one shoe. This chap (or chappess) rejoices in the name of Oiceoptoma thoracicum, a.k.a. Red-breasted Carrion Beetle. It apparently likes dung and carcasses so quite why Francine’s jeans appealed, I know not.

What a relief today was after the week we seem to have suffered. We even managed to barbecue some more of our local butcher’s well hung sirloin steak and, of course, some more of their excellent sausages.

Posted in 2021-05 Norfolk

Meteorological Monotony

A transcription of the Met Office app.

08:00 Heavy rain

09:00 Heavy rain

10:00 Heavy rain

11:00 Heavy rain

12:00 Heavy rain

13:00 Heavy rain

14:00 Heavy rain

15:00 Heavy rain

16:00 Light rain

17:00 Overcast

18:00 Heavy overcast

19:00 Overcast

20:00 Overcast

Mute Swan-211753Just to relieve the monotony and to give me something to process while I’m stuck inside, here’s a Mute Swan from earlier in the week when I did have the right lens but didn’t have the Marsh Harrier.

Posted in 2021-05 Norfolk

Coastal Effects

Wha’d’ya know, a bright morning, though cold, of course.

I’m losing count of the times I’ve wandered along the river with the big lens hoping for a second chance at one of the resident Marsh Harriers (we’ve seen at least two). All to no avail. This time one did put in an appearance but it chose to stick doggedly to the far side of the marsh it was harrying.

Welcome brightness continued through the morning and Francine wanted to see the sea so we drove off to Happisburgh [pronounced “Hayz-br’h”, the the double-p being silent for some bizarre reason]. We paid-and-displayed in a car park at the top of the cliffs, between Hyz-br’h’s well known red and white lighthouse and an imposing church. We donned wellies and sauntered down a coarse sand ramp to the beach to get well and truly braced by the wind.

Coastal ErosionNow, about those cliffs. Despite a mixture of wooden, metal and concrete coastal defences, the cliffs are eroding and seemingly at a considerable rate. We didn’t notice the alarming signs at the foot of our sand ramp but then we began walking northwards into the wind. We were now on the beach opposite the position of the church. Taking your eyes off the beach and glancing up, this is the surreal spectacle that meats your gaze: long lengths of 4-inch soil pipes protrude from the cliff face for some distance into mid-air. Looking a little more closely, you then see narrower black pipes flexible enough to simply hang down the cliff face, some of them reaching all the way to the bottom. Some of these had fitments that made them look like water supply pipes, though some may have been electricity cables. What we couldn’t see was very much in the way of rubble at the foot of the cliff.

The truth became clear looking at a notice board bearing and old representation of the scene. In between the church and the edge of the cliff as was, was one of those dreadful mobile home/static caravan parks. What a place to site it, beside an otherwise impressive church. Nature to the rescue. Once the cliff erosion reached a critical stage, the static caravans had been moved to a new site further inland to blight another piece of landscape. The underground utility connections needed by the vans, of course, remained and now protrude from the revised-by-erosion cliff edge. It’s an intriguing sight in an untidy, macabre sort of way.

Whale, chips and mushy peasWe left Hayz’br’h and its aerial plumbing in search of a pub lunch. Yikes! I can’t remember the last time I went to a pub, even before this bloody pandemic, but we felt like doing something to support a local business. The novelty and logistics of eating outside at a social distance wearing facemasks needed to be tried to get the full pandemic experience. We found space at the Lighthouse Inn at Walcott in some breezy coastal effect sunshine. Further inland the customary dark clouds could be seen gathering, some of which were clearly falling to earth. It was Friday, after all, so it seemed silly not to order the traditional fish’n’chips complete with mushy peas. It was a huge and excellent plateful (I told them I hadn’t tasted better), and went down very well with the aid of some Woodforde’s Wherry bitter.

We’d timed our lunch perfectly; soon after we’d paid and left, the dark clouds managed to overcome the coastal effect sunshine and it began raining, just for a change.

I had bought some fillet steak from our well-hung butcher – sorry, make that, “bought some well-hung fillet steak from our butcher” –  intent on making an evening beef stroganoff but, really, who could face another meal after that mega-lunch? Cheese and biscuits it would be, then.

Posted in 2021-05 Norfolk

Worse Than Expected

Spring?

Today’s forecast was initially not too bad considering the track record but it worsened considerably overnight. We had been looking forward to something dry. We are now offered more or less constant rain with a high of … wait for it … 6°C, and that’s the real temperature, not the “feels like” which struggles to a high of 5°C.

Why am I here? Because I have a wet new air awning, that’s why I’m here.

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Posted in 2021-05 Norfolk

Better Than Expected

For the first time in what must be two years, we began the day in an early bright spell by mounting our bukes and cycling to my favourite butchers shop up the road in Ludham. There’s a pleasantly quiet back lanes route to take. There was still a biting wind. It’s a mercifully short ride and it didn’t hurt as much as I expected.

Francine had seen a sign outside the butcher proclaiming “well hung steaks”. Well, red rag to a bull. I donned my required facemask and wandered in.

“My wife sent me to get her something well hung”, I began. “At least, I think she said ‘something’; I suppose she may have said ‘someone’”.

Their well hung sirloin steaks looked just the job. Armed with steaks, old English pork sausages and smoked back bacon rashers, we reversed our back lanes route and cycled back into the headwind.

After the traditional bright start, our forecast was for an overcast but essentially dry day reaching the dizzy heights of 11°C. We set off to investigate a boardwalk at Barton Broad, which a helpful man had mentioned when we met at Alderfen. We were both pleasantly surprised when the bright spells continued through the morning and much of the afternoon.

Orange Tip-211771Orange Tip-211774A well organized car park with toilet facilities was situated a short walk along a lane to the boardwalk. The one piece of interesting wildlife that I spotted, an Orange Tip butterfly, may have been struggling with the chilly conditions ‘cos it settled during a dull spell, promptly closing its wings. Orange Tips don’t settle often and they aren’t given to posing, either, even when they do. We watched intently while the dark cloud made its way across the sun, causing another walking couple to wonder why we were staring intently at the hedge. Always fun. I pointed out my subject, wondering if a bright interlude might encourage it to open its wings and bask a little. Sure enough it did; this happens rarely. It’s nice to document a settle Orange Tip with its wings open but I think I prefer the side shot from an aesthetics point of view.

The boardwalk itself produced nothing, zip, nada, ”pas un chat” as they say in France.

Sunny spells continued through much of the afternoon and more shopping, for something less well hung, this time. They ceased, of course, and the sky blackened alarmingly just as I was thinking of barbecuing. I wrapped up and went for it anyway. I appeared to have no support from other like-minded lunatics.

The well hung sirloin was excellent, as were the old English pork sausages.

Posted in 2021-05 Norfolk

Still Up

As advertised, overnight we were pummelled by gusting 45mph winds and lashed by the horizontal rain that they carried. Our new air awning is still up and seems to have survived. I have had to engineer a solution to stop the padded sides vibrating against the van.

Regrettably the wind is also still up and the rain is still coming down – well, across, anyway. I must say that the materiel of the new awning seems excellent; very water repellent. We have had awnings beneath which you can feel a fine mist in bad weather. Nothing of that sort here.

St-Bennetts-AbbeyThese weather conditions persisted pretty much all day, save for a short lull in the lashing rain mid-afternoon when we braved the elements and went out to get blown to St. Bennett’s Abbey  before fighting our way back along the dyke beside the River Ant into a stiff headwind. Our walk certainly blew away the cobwebs but could hardly have been described as pleasant. Francine snagged the abbey on her telephone. Well, why not? Now, if I could just make a phone call on my camera we might have something.

The rain resumed its horizontal trajectory five minutes after we were safely back inside Guillaume.

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Posted in 2021-05 Norfolk

Testing Technology

… and you may read that how you like. 😀

We’ve been caravanning for 35 years, or thereabouts. The Caravan Club even sent us a fancy sticker proclaiming “30 Years Membership” to slap in Guillaume’s window. This, of course, makes you feel like a complete prat when you cock something up.

Although my initial reason for wanting a modest caravan was to avoid tent pegs – I’d had trouble smacking pegs into the ground on more than one occasion during our earlier tenting times in France – I eventually bowed to pressure [no prizes guessing from where] and, In our 35 years, we’ve now amassed quite a catalogue of sun canopies and porch awnings.

A sun canopy was our first choice to provide Mr. Sunburns-Readily with some shade against the otherwise delightful Mediterranean sun that he loves so much. A sun canopy is (or was then) like a full width awning but without the enclosing front panels; really just a roof and side panels pretty much the same size as the caravan. You get quite steamy sitting under/in them beneath a blazing sun but at least you don’t burn.

I learnt a lesson with a sun canopy in the west of France one year. We’d arrived at our chosen campsite near the oyster beds around La Tremblade with a good, stiff breeze blowing. Foolishly, I now know,  once we’d chosen our pitch and set up, I started to erect my head-saving sun canopy. With no protective front wall, the wind got inside and grabbed said canopy giving it a darn good shaking, whereupon the centre roof pole came loose, fell, swung down and dented the side of our caravan. “Bother”, said Pooh, remarkably crossly. This was entirely my fault.

Eventually, largely for some shorter trips in the vagaries of UK weather, I weakened yet again and we tried a few porch awnings, which are really an enclosed cover for the caravan door in which to store a table, chairs, walking boots etc, in the dry. [Give me the Mediterranean sun every time.] I think I can count four such contrivances of varying designs.

One of these designs had carbon-fibre poles one of which was a sort of U-shaped horizontal hoop with both ends braced against the caravan to hold the awning out. Other poles, of course, held the awning up. I was amazed how a half-sized porch awning could require more of the effin’ pegs that I’d been so keen to avoid in the first place, than did a full sized sun canopy. Nonetheless this one did. I was even more surprised when, during one particular windy day, the perfectly safely erected porch awning rattled against the side of the caravan causing the U-shaped pole ends to dent the caravan side panel. “Bother”, repeated Pooh, extremely crossly once again. For this mishap, I disclaim responsibility.

Time and technology have moved on. Prior to this Norfolk trip we ordered yet another porch awning, one of the new-fangled “air” porch awnings. This is at least our fourth and may be our fifth. Gone are the poles that can damage the side panels of caravans. In their place is/are one or more inflatable rubber tubes with a diameter of about 80mm [I’m guessing]. Now, instead of carrying a bag full of poles, you have to carry a ruddy great pump to blow the 80mm tube(s) up to 7psi. We Click-and-Collected our new “air” awning on Saturday afternoon after we’d arrived and got settled.

I must say that the erection process went smoothly. [Insert smutty comment here.] I think, however, that my tubing may be over-inflated. I take full responsibility for getting too stiff. There’s a handy pressure gauge on the pump but, with the non-return valve to prevent deflation, having pumped, said pressure gauge drops rapidly back to zero before you can see what pressure it’s attained. No matter, at least it’s a good, firm erection. [Insert smutty ….]

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI  find this air technology a bit flaky. Granted, there are no poles damaging yet another essentially new caravan. I’m a little leery of the rigidity of a 7psi tube, though, even if over-inflated. I wouldn’t want to lose it in the middle of the night, if you see what I mean. As luck would have it, we are pitched looking at an example of a limp air awning and here it is; it sags in a most unattractive manner. It’s a sad sight and I feel very sorry for this chap who keeps coming out to try and blow it up again.

Tonight and tomorrow will be a good test of our flaky technology. This evening we have a >95% chance of rain with winds gusting to 45mph. In that poor chap’s place, I think I’d adopt the approach that if you can’t keep it up then it’s better to save face and take it down. [Insert smutty …] If a 45mph wind gets hold of that collapsing awning it could be quite entertaining.

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Posted in 2021-05 Norfolk

Wrong Lens

The brightest part of today was forecast to be early morning, so we had just one cup of coffee to wake up, partially at least, before wandering down the road to Ludham Bridge for a saunter along the River Ant. I know there’s a colony of Variable damselflies nearby but I thought it’d be too early for those in these temperatures, both seasonally too early and too early in the day. Nonetheless, ever hopeful of other insect interest, I mounted my 40-150 lens with a 1.4X.

Naturally there was no sign of anything insect-like, certainly not flying around and I saw only one fly sitting. I can’t get excited about most diptera; hoverflies are an exception but I didn’t find any of those, either. Given air temperature blowing across the reed beds, I was less than surprised.

Nonetheless, it’s a pleasant walk and we continued along the track to the frequent rattling of Reed Warblers in the … yes, reeds. They keep up an almost constant chatter but you rarely actually see them.

Part way along our route we flushed a large bird from the reeds beside the river. We though Heron at first but no, as it turned to drift across our track I could see it was a raptor, a Marsh Harrier (Circus aeruginosus). How’s that for a genus name: Circus? Wonderful. So was the bird. Where’s my 300mm lens when I needed it, though? I got a few less than wonderful pictures with my slightly-too-small lens as teh majestic bird casually drifted off into the distance.

Marsh Harrier-211707It must have done some sort of loop while we weren’t watching. We’d popped down a short side track for a nose and as we turned I saw it flying back from the direction we’d come. This time the bird was closer and crossing us and the poor little lens (it’s actually a very good piece of glass) did a reasonable job, though bigger would’ve been better. You can rarely be over-lensed when it comes to birds and what a glorious bird this is.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWorking off a traditional first morning fried breakfast – call it brunch by the time we had it – we spent 90 minutes or so over lunch time at Alderfen. Alderfen is a Norfolk Wildlife Trust reserve and one of my personal favourites. It was very quiet; very quiet and very boggy so it’s a good job we’d got our wellies in the car. More than half way around our loop we’d seen nothing, nada, rien. At the final turn back towards the car a Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula) flew around me, low down, and disappeared. Bother. A little further on I did find a second suspect sitting more cooperatively so I got some proof for a record. Nearly at the car, a third fluttered up into the trees.

We continued past the car onto a track on the opposite side of the reserve. We’d never been down this one before but a small stream trickles along beside it so it looked promising. It was; we got our count up to nine. Our mates were braving a still chill wind coming down from the north. Most of these were tenerals taking their maiden flights but the one I snagged looked more mature. Still, season underway in this part of Norfolk.

Posted in 2021-05 Norfolk