Northumberland Sea Dogs

After the frankly ludicrous heatwave over Easter it was back to reality with a bump come May, a week of which we spent camping along the Northumberland coast near Seahouses. Our main objective for this trip was to get across to the Farne Islands where breeding birds promised to wow us in their thousands. In the end we made two sailings, the first in glorious sunshine but sadly with the sea swell too large to even consider a landing. Attempt number two wasn't much better but we did at least manage to grab forty minutes ashore Inner Farne where, as expected, the avian residents put on a fabulous show.

Our feathered friends can wait for another day however as this entry is all about the mammalian residents which also call these windswept islands home. I am of course referring to Grey Seals, hundreds of which are resident here and, when conditions are right, like nothing more than to haul themselves out on to the rocks to enjoy a siesta. It's a spectacle I'm well used to by now but during our second voyage their numbers were greater than anything I can remember seeing previously. One particular island seemed especially popular and was covered from front to back and honestly, who can resist faces like these.

2019_05_0088 - Farne island Seals

2019_05_0083 - Farne island Seals

2019_05_0084 - Farne island Seals

2019_05_0086 - Farne island Seals

Of course, there's always someone who decides to play up for the camera!

2019_05_0090 - Farne island Seals

Reed Warbler at Ham Wall

This year, even with three months still left to go, has been one of my most enjoyable to date. Almost every weekend has seen us out and about both locally and further afield including over a month spent exploring the wilds of Scotland. Along the way we've experienced just about every weather imaginable, revelled in fabulous wildlife encounters and eaten more pasties than is probably advisable. We've summited Ben Nevis, gone eye to eye with hunting Skua, watched Dolphins in crystal clear waters and walked through fields of Sunflowers. And that's just for starters.

Along the way I've taken thousands of photos but all have remained unedited, languishing on various hard drives along with their accompanying stories. 

Until now that is.

With the nights drawing in once more it's time for me to finally sit down, open up Photoshop and a blank Blogger post and get those creative juices flowing. Having so much material is however proving both a blessing and a curse - where to start in the huge editing backlog and what to share first!

Making matters more complicated is that I have now switched from Windows to Mac meaning a change in workflow and new software to get to grips with. Nothing you'd think that should be too challenging for a software engineer by trade but letting go of those niggling doubts about the quality of ones own work is a hindrance that I'm yet to beat. My solution? Just get stuck in and having come across a couple of great images from an April trip to the RSPB reserve at Ham Wall, I think I've found just the subject to inject some life back into this blog.

2019_04_0040 - Reed Warbler, Ham Wall

2019_04_0041 - Reed Warbler, Ham Wall

2019_04_0039 - Reed Warbler, Ham Wall

The Reed Warbler above was probably my best encounter with the species all year and perhaps unsurprisingly yielded my favourite shots to date of this often elusive bird. Sat singing just off the path we were treated to virtually unhindered views and for those of us that have spent many hours scouring reed beds, you'll know how opportunities like this don't come around all too often. In fact so confiding was this individual that in the end we had to walk away with the bird still happily perched and belting out its tune. 

Elsewhere Ham Wall had been less kind photographically but simply spectacular in terms of the array of species on offer. Bittern were booming almost constantly during our visit and we ended up enjoying multiple sightings across the reserve. Great White Egrets were also well represented as were Marsh Harriers not to mention all the usual migrants that you'd have expected at that time of year. Top billing though had to go to a pair of Hobby which were busy hawking for insects right above one of the hides. In the end we actually stood outside looking up in order to view the spectacle at its fullest and boy were we not disappointed. Much like the aforementioned star of this entry we both seldom see Hobby so this was a real treat and a fine way to round off our visit.

And with that consider your appetites suitably whetted. I've got a few more days of photo editing ahead of me before the posts can start flowing freely but I hope you'll stick around and that the barren blogging months will not have been in vain. 

Tornado and the Pembroke Coast Express

Pembroke Coast Express
Sunday before last saw an unusual visitor arriving here in South Wales and as you might expect from a land steeped in myth and legend, this was to be no ordinary cross-border incursion. Indeed, playing the Welsh very much at their own game what emerged from the Severn Tunnel in a cloud of smoke and steam was a true fire breathing marvel. With sun glinting off pristine green plating there could be no mistaking the power and pedigree of a machine which epitomises everything great about British engineering. Oh yes my friends, Tornado was on her way.

Dipping Through Waterfall Country

P1180590 - Pontneddfechan Waterfalls
Of all the seasons autumn for me is the one which seems to pass the quickest. One minute it's all lush vegetation and long sunny days, the next barren landscapes and lashings of rain. Somewhere in-between those classic vistas with which we're all so familiar, of valleys bedecked in oranges and reds, must exist, yet somehow we never quite manage to connect. Much of that has I'm sure to do with our local climate which has this uncanny knack of switching moods on an almost hourly basis. In fact by now I've come to realise that it's an almost guaranteed occurrence that as soon as the leaves start to change our first named storm of the winter will arrive to dash the display before it's really had chance to develop. And last year proved be no different.

Short Eared Owls and Elusive Grebes

P1180973 - Short Eared Owl. Kenfig
Yesterday did not get off to the most promising of starts. For a few days previous I’d begun to detect the onset of another winter cold. Nothing too major you understand, just the odd cough and sniffle, enough to let you know that sometime soon, probably at the most inopportune moment, man-flu would strike. Sunday morning turned out to be my ground zero.

Squeezing my eyes shut against the brightness of another unseasonably warm February morning I knew that I was in trouble. Pain arced behind my eyes and a previously undiscovered spring had overnight taken up residence within my nose. I could have dragged this broken body out of bed I suppose but wallowing in self-pity whilst claiming to have been visited by the worst cold ever suffered by a human is one of the few male pastimes which remains steadfastly ours. And that’s how I stayed until well after noon.

The One Where I Go Missing For A Bit

If you’ve been checking in on this blog or any of my social channels even semi regularly over the past few months (and many of you have for which I thank you profusely), then you may have noticed that things have been rather quiet. In fact my last “original” content was way back in August following the barnstormer that was Birdfair 2018, after which I rather fell off the digital wagon. It’s not the first time and it probably won’t be the last despite my best of intentions and, as usual, the reasons are all too familiar. Time, work and having taken on too many other projects all feature prominently but new to me has been an overwhelming sense of despair that I’ve had real trouble shaking. Indeed it still burdens me now.

Some of this was a hangover from Birdfair itself where, despite writing of my intention to take inspiration from those fighting for our wildlife and environment, I couldn’t shake the sense that it was all hopeless and that in the end we’re on a downwards spiral whose course was set long ago. Even when opportunities to make a difference do present themselves it seems that those with the real power are either too busy playing politics or, as seems to be the case in many instances, simply don’t care. That makes global issues such as climate change and plastic pollution an almost impossible challenge. Even trying to lift my mood by heading out locally has managed to have the opposite effect with dirt bikes and fly-tipping blighting several favourite haunts.

Needless to say the desire to write upbeat posts therefore has been somewhat lacking and instead I’ve been throwing myself into other activities including the ongoing conversion of my van to a camper as well as spending an embarrassing amount of time playing Pokémon Go (yes, really!). When the urge to get back out birding became too strong to ignore we chose to forego the usual options and instead ended up on a week’s all-inclusive holiday to Sardinia. This came at just the right time with both of us nearing burnout and things couldn’t have gone any better. Fantastic wildlife, glorious weather and beautiful surroundings meant that we came back refreshed and with a feeling that perhaps all was not lost after all.

In recent weeks the rapid onset of autumn has brought a stark drop in temperature resulting in sharp frosts and some stunning early morning light. With it has come a flurry of Jay activity such that I’ve barely been able to go for a walk or drive without seeing these most colourful of corvids. Back at home our garden feeders have begun to feel the winter onslaught of hungry Goldfinches and we’ve also been joined by a chatty Magpie which seems to take much delight in banging our windows each morning. Beats an alarm clock anyway. Together these little moments have started to remind me why I fell in love with the great outdoors in the first place and that, no matter how difficult things may initially appear, there’s always hope and collectively we should never give up the fight. Hope prevails so long as there’s someone still standing.

So where does that leave me now? Conflicted yes but at least with light at the end of the tunnel and a renewed sense of excitement and curiosity. With a couple of months left before the end of the year I plan to bring this blog up to date with recent goings on and also to prepare for a 2019 which promises to be full of new opportunities and adventure. Just to whet your appetite here’s a sample of what will be coming your way very soon:


- Dipping through Waterfall Country
- Jurassic coast fossils
- Sardinia: a week birding and walking the Mediterranean
- Van Conversion Part 1: insulating and carpeting
- Van Conversion Part 2: cupboards and a custom bed
- Van Conversion Part 3: swivel seats and finishing touches
- Sunday Showcase

Plenty to keep me busy then including a backlog of several thousand photos to edit and catalogue, not to mention actually writing some posts. On top of that I'm sure there'll be plenty of opportunity for odd day's out here and there particularly when the hills start turning white. Consider normal service resumed as of now.

P1180670 - Lyme Regis

I've missed this little community we've built together and look forward to seeing it grow even further.
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