North Norfolk New Year

rs Sciencebase and myself often run away to the north Norfolk coast, originally it was just the quickest route to the beach for us, but then we started looking out for aves and this part of the country is so rich in birdlife you can’t help but visit again and again. On our short trip to Morston Quay between Xmas and New Year, we “ticked” more than 60 bird species, not counting the dozen or so extras on Blakeney Duck Pond. Here are a few scenic shots and some of the birds.

Morston Quay
On the way to Blakeney
Morston Quay
Morston Quay at dawn
Morston Quay
Morston Quay
Morston Quay at dusk
Morston Quay
Male Pintail, Blakeney Duck Pond
Female Goldeneye, Blakeney Duck Pond
Barnacle Goose, Blakeney Duck Pond
Cormorants, Blakeney
Male Goldeneye, Blakeney Duck Pond
One of 100 or so Curlew we saw, this one in Blakeney
Male Goldeneye, Blakeney Duck Pond
Grey Seal, Wells-next-the-Sea
70+ Snow Buntings, Holkham Gap (not all of them pictured!)
One of four Shore Larks at Holkham Gap, first time we’ve seen this species
1000s of Pink-footed Geese over Morston Quay (not all of them pictured!)

1. Bar-tailed Godwit
2. Barn Owl
3. Black-headed Gull
4. Black-tailed Godwit
5. Blackbird
6. Black Brant Goose
7. Blue Tit
8. Brent Goose
9. Buzzard
10. Canada Goose
11. Cetti’s Warbler (call)
12. Collared Dove
13. Common Gull
14. Coot
15. Cormorant
16. Curlew
17. Dunlin
18. Dunnock
19. Goldcrest (call)
20. Great Black-backed Gull
21. Great Tit
22. Greylag Goose
23. Herring Gull
24. House Sparrow
25. Jackdaw
26. Kestrel
27. Knot
28. Lapwing
29. Linnet
30. Little Egret
31. Little Grebe
32. Long-tailed Tit
33. Magpie
34. Mallard
35. Marsh Harrier
36. Meadow Pipit
37. Mute Swan
38. Oystercatcher
39. Pheasant
40. Pied Wagtail
41. Pink-footed Goose
42. Red Kite
43. Red-throated Diver
44. Redshank
45. Reed Bunting (call)
46. Robin
47. Sanderling
48. Shelduck
49. Shorelark
50. Shoveler
51. Skylark
52. Snow Bunting
53. Sparrowhawk
54. Starling
55. Teal
56. Tufted Duck
57. Water Pipit
58. Whooper Swan
59. Wigeon
60. Wood Pigeon
61. Wren

Panto time again? Oh, yes it is!

We had to skip our annual panto in 2020, but this year we’re bigger, bolder, and brassier than ever with Treasure Island! Oh yes we are! Here are a few of my snaps (in no particular order) from the orchestra pit where I’m playing guitar, as usual. Find out more about Cottenham Theatre Workshop.

Pit band (photo by Darren White)
Pit Band (L-R) – Dave, Rob, Barbara, Adam, Christian (not pictured understudy drummer John and clarinet understudy Tanara
Gary Unwin-Riches is Long John Silver
Gary Unwin-Riches is Long John Silver
Liz Mayne as Jim Hawkins
Liz Mayne as Jim Hawkins
Chrissie Kelby is Jenny Trelawney
Chrissie Kelby is Jenny Trelawney
Matt Unwin as Mrs Hawkins
Matt Unwin as Mrs Hawkins
Amy Unwin as Mrs Henderson
Amy Unwin as Mrs Henderson

Mark Nolan as Bloodboiler
Mark Nolan as Bloodboiler

Tricia Bradley as Mrs Battersby (left) and Helen McCallum as WI member
Tricia Bradley as Mrs Battersby (left) and Helen McCallum as WI member
Liz Mayne as Jim Hawkins
Liz Mayne as Jim Hawkins
Duncan McCallum as Goth
Duncan McCallum as Goth

John Unwin as Squire Trelawney (left)
John Unwin as Squire Trelawney (left)
Tricia Bradley is Mrs Battersby
Tricia Bradley is Mrs Battersby

Paul Mapp is Little Ron (left)
Paul Mapp is Little Ron (left)
Mary Garside is Polly the Parrot
Mary Garside is Polly the Parrot

Mark Nolan is Billy Bones
Mark Nolan is Billy Bones
Natalia Thorn Coe is Seadog Sam (left) and Nikki Kerss is Seaweed Willy
Natalia Thorn Coe is Seadog Sam (left) and Nikki Kerss is Seaweed Willy

Nathalie Morgan is Georgette Souflet
Nathalie Morgan is Georgette Souflet

Rachel Shore as Mrs Parker (right)
Rachel Shore as Mrs Parker (right)

Ben Shimmens is Gizzard Slitter (4th from left)
Ben Shimmens is Gizzard Slitter (4th from left)
Choreography by Megan Swann (right)
Choreography by Megan Swann (right)
Helen McCallum as Benjamina Gunn
Helen McCallum as Benjamina Gunn
Silver's other bird
Silver’s other bird

Aunty Babs our amazing musical director
Aunty Babs our amazing musical director
Where would the world be without spotted dick?
Where would the world be without spotted dick?

Take a look at the unexpected beauty of moths

Regular readers will hopefully be well aware by now that I got bitten by the mothing bug three years ago. Mrs Sciencebase spotted an enormous Copper Underwing in the garden and we were both fascinated by its size and its markings.

Poplar Hawk-moth

A friend in the village had previously offered to lend me his scientific moth trap with its UV tube and so I gave him a call and he said he would set it up that night in his garden. I could come to see what had turned up the next morning (24th July 2018). There were lots of moths in there with some weird and wonderful names – Angle Shades, Poplar Hawk-moth, Willow Beauty, Dark Arches, Burnished Brass, Ruby Tiger, Buff Ermine…the list goes on.

Elephant Hawk-moth

I was hooked and took the trap home and have been “lighting up” ever since. My “tick list” is fast approaching 400 moth species. I’ve photographed them all at least once and some of them several times. You can see my latest moth photos on the Sciencebase Instagram along with my other nature photos and other stuff. My ticklist is on my Imaging Storm website along with an archive of the Lepidoptera photos.

Six-spot Burnet

They do say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but you cannot deny that the insect world is beautiful and nowhere more so, in my opinion than in the realm of the Lepidoptera. Incidentally, butterflies are just one group within Lepidoptera, on the same branch of the family tree as the so-called micro moths, in fact.

Eyed Hawk-moth
Buff Arches
Chinese Character
Yellow-legged Clearwing
Emperor Moth
Gypsy Moth
Clifden Non-pareil

Messing about on the river

Early morning boat trip

A Midsummer Dawn – A few hours of calm, good company, glassy waters, a golden sunrise, and birdlife

Misty narrowboat
Clouds at dawn
Sunrise from the boat
Moorhen and chicks
Moored sunrise
West River footbridge
River signs
Great Crested Grebe and Roach
West River footbridge
Common Tern
Grey Heron sleeping in a tree
Shelduck ducklings

Twitching wildflowers

The rather derogatory term “twitching” (see definition in my tongue-in-beak bird glossary) is usually preserved for someone going out of their way to see a rare bird…but those with an interest in seeking out natural wonders may well twitch anything. Yesterday, I took my daily walk partly along the Cambridge to Stives guided busway to “twitch” the bee orchids that are thriving sporadically along the wild margins of the route.

While I was walking back to my turning-home point, I bumped into a group of people who were well aware of the bee orchids, pointed out that there were also some pyramidal orchids around and explained that they were (mostly) amateur botanists out for a day’s botanising (the wildflower equivalent of birding and mothing, I presume).

The plant that had taken their interest at the time I stopped to talk them was  a seemingly mundane specimen in the impacted dirt at the edge of the by-way and guided bus cycleway. What made it interesting was that it was a maritime species, a wildflower that should only be seen growing along our coasts. Now, given the number of wading birds that seem to have taken to being landlubbers these last few months in and around our village, it’s perhaps no surprise that a maritime plant species will have taken root, perhaps a seed having hitchhiked among the feathers of one of those coastal waders or been delivered in conjunction with a bird’s inflight fertiliser in the form of avian guano. I think this is the plant, but there were several others around it, so not sure, and no idea of its ID.

Mystery maritime – Is this a coastal plant that has become a landlubber?

Sharpen your Peregrines

Just giving Topaz Sharpen AI and Denoise a try-before-you-buy. I had some hastily grabbed photos of the Ely Peregrines, but the best of the bunch had quite a lot of motion blur and was rather noisy because of high-ish ISO and exposure compensation to get the underside markings of the bird against a bright blue sky as it flew overhead.

So, here’s the basic photo converted from camera RAW and close-cropped to a square to ultimately upload to the Sciencebase Instagram. It looks very grainy/noisy and the motion blur and shoddy focusing look irretrievable, to be honest…

I told Topaz that the photo is suffering from serious motion blur and is “very blurry” and let it choose the basic settings. It took several minutes to process the image but the output is quite astonishing…you have to admit!

Still noisy, but then I hadn’t asked it to clean up the grain, I used the separate Denoise AI software to do that, again with quite astonishing results just setting it to “standard” and letting it do its job. Denoising was very quick…

The final step was to go back to my usual photo editing package PaintShopPro to develop the image as I normally would and to add my logo…

That’s a pretty good result considering how shockingly bad the original unprocessed image was and perfectly acceptable for Instagram and other social media I’d say although probably not going to be good enough for National Geographic in any way, shape, or form.

The Topaz Labs software – Denoise, Sharpen, and others – can be found here.


Grasshopper Warbler, Locustella naevia

I’m fairly sure I’d heard this relatively rare bird at RSPB Fowlmere several years ago but as a very, very amateur birder, I’d not seen one and certainly not seen one calling until this week. We took a trip to RSPB Titchwell on 2nd May 2021 and could hear one in the reed bed adjacent to the main footpath from the visitor centre, but didn’t catch a glimpse of the bird. A second visit in the week (5th May) and we could definitely hear the insect-like call of the bird and finally pinned it down to a patch of gorse and hawthorn not far from Patsy’s reedbed.

The Common Grasshopper Warbler is one of the grass warblers. (See What’s a Warbler, Anyway?). Given the name, one might assume that this bird dines on grasshoppers. But, that’s not the allusion of its name. Far from it. Rather the bird is so-called because its call is a constant monotonous trilling that sounds very much like the sound of a grasshopper. Here, have a listen to hear what I mean

The bird finds a safe perch, opens its bill and lets rip with its tuneless but rather delightful call. It’s quite difficult to pinpoint from exactly where the sound emanates, as is often the case with high-pitched bird calls. It’s almost as if the bird has some kind of ventriloquial skill. Nevertheless, we were lucky today and caught sight of it following an outburst as it weaved its way through spiny bushes to find its next perch.

There an estimated 16000 pairs in The British Isles and the bird is in the conservation red list as endangered. For comparison, there are 260,000 Sedge Warbler “territories”. The species can be seen across Europe from the west to Russia and Ukraine. It spends the northern winter in West Africa. The Locustella of the scientific name is the genus of which this species is the “type” naevia “translates” as spotted.

Sometimes the oddest of photos will go viral on Instagram, but who knows why?

If you were hoping to read an article with the top five ways to go viral on Instagram, then I’m sorry to disappoint you, but I don’t have any tips. I’ve been using Insta since not long after it launched, but have fewer than 600 followers (as of the time of writing) and have posted only about 2000 photos, most recently of birds, moths, and occasional mammals and moonshots.

A Yaffle, or Green Woodpecker, at Cambridge Research Park

A lot of the people who follow me are people I knew in the real world or via other earlier social media encounters. The follower number has crept up but ever so slowly over the years. Most of my photos get a few dozen likes. Occasionally, something will suddenly get a traffic spike and reach 100 likes. w00t (not!)

Nuthatch, All Saints’ Church, Cottenham

I use hashtags to try and draw the crowds although they don’t seem to make much difference. Indeed, recently, posting from a desktop PC has seen my comment and hashtags failing to upload and the photo has, nevertheless, reached the giddy heights of 100 or so likes. So, I really don’t have a winning formula.

Bearded Reedling, RSPB Ouse Fen

At the weekend, I got wind of a Nuthatch that had turned up down the road, at All Saints’ Church, Cottenham, not a ten-minute walk from here (maybe 15). It is the first time one has been seen in the village, at least within living/birding memory. It was a dull, grey morning when it was first spotted and I got some dull, grey photos. It is a lovely little bird, almost like a miniature kingfisher, but pecking around treetops rather than darting along rivers and streams. It has pretty but pastel, pale colouration.

The Nuthatch is not a particularly rare bird. There are 220,000 breeding territories across the British Isles, although they’re quite localised and like I say, these is a first in modern times for Cottenham, as far as I know. I recorded it singing and also went back on the sunny Sunday morning to get a better shot.

I think I succeeded in getting a clearer, more detailed shot of the bird and I posted it with hashtags on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and on this very blog (obvs). The insta tags I used were the same ones I usually use but with the addition of #nuthatch:

#birds #aves #featheredfriends #birdoftheday #instabird #birdsofig #birdies #nature #RSPB #Fenland #England #countryside #beautiful #feathers #nuthatch

I anticipated the usual small, but perfectly formed, collection of likes from friends and contacts. And, they did indeed arrive for which I am always grateful, it’s nice to be appreciated and all that. But, having seen the first few dozen I was surprised to check back much later in the day to see that the numbers had gone up a lot…almost 400 by late afternoon and at the time of writing on a day later, there have been well over 800 likes for this one photo.

Like I say, it’s a special bird, it’s the first Nuthatch in Cottenham in birding memory, the incomer could herald colonisation and the species may ultimately become an everyday sight in the village. But, a first for a small village doesn’t explain why so many people from all over the world have liked this fairly mundane bird photo of mine. I’m really intrigued to know what sparked such interest especially given that the subsequent bird photos (an amusing one of a Green Woodpecker and one of a Bearded Tit) didn’t achieve quite the same virality…