Sunday, February 17, 2013

Short-eared Owl

Mid-afternoon yesterday saw me mingling with the masses in New Brighton, but unlike the shoppers and general public enjoying the first sunny day for some time, I was there for one reason only; waders. Or to be more precise Purple Sandpipers. The jetty on the marine lake is a safe high tide refuge for a variety of wading birds that on Saturday included Redshank, Turnstone, a few Knot and at least fourteen Purple Sandpipers, the first I have seen this year. After a few record photographs I left the bustling cafes and shops and headed for the peace of Parkgate.
On the way I checked a few roads around Irby for Waxwings but without any luck. No sooner had I arrived in the Old baths car park at Parkgate than a ring-tail Hen Harrier drifted across the Spartina. Too distant to photograph but beautiful nevertheless. Moments later the first of two superb Short-eared Owls started quartering the marsh close to the car park; fantastic! These two birds drifted up and down the marsh for the rest of the afternoon, sometimes giving amazingly close views. At one point one of the owls drifted close and high to investigate what looked like a remote-controlled toy helicopter, but I don't know where the operator was. They would have got a shock if the owl had intercepted it!
Later a superb male Merlin perched quite close giving excellent telescope views. It was one of two seen. And the finale to an excellent afternoon's birding was a distant Barn Owl seen heading south towards the ice-cream shop!

Here the owl is investigating
the remote controlled helicopter!

Purple Sandpiper avoiding the crowd of Turnstones


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Thursday, February 14, 2013

BBC Wildlife

It is always very exciting seeing my photos in print, and it's a great honour to have a photo published in the illustrious BBC Wildlife Magazine. So I am extremely excited that the accompanying photo of a Waxwing in Denbigh has been chosen as March's "Photo of the Month"!
I have won a very good Lowpro camera bag as a prize; but the real prize is seeing my photo in a magazine that has been a constant source of education and pleasure for me for nearly 30 years!

Waxwing, Denbigh, December 2012

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Welsh Waxwings

Monday, February 11, 2013

Hell in the Middle

Yesterday, Saturday 10th, despite feeling a bit under the weather, I turned up at the Trentham Estate near Stoke to run in the extreme trail event called Hell in the Middle. I have run a number of these events before in the Autumn in the lovely Delamere Forest, but this was a new venue for me; and a new time of year, there were more than a few flakes of snow falling from the grey skies as we approached the venue.
The event set-up was great with car-parking close to the start along with a good selection of cafes nearby for that essential post-race refreshment.
After only a short delay the first wave crossed the start line at ten minutes past ten. The initial route zigzagged across a grassy field, luckily it had stopped raining, but the ground was very soft. After only ten minutes we had to cross an icy-cold river; the water was easily chest-height in places. I thought I would freeze following that early dip, but my technical running gear dried out after a few miles; I pitied the poor runners in heavy fancy dress. The first of many steep climbs loomed and there was snow and hail on the ground. Every steep climb was followed by a body-jarring fast and steep descent over mud, bracken, through trees and at one point down some very slippy wooden steps; there was no respite from the relentless inclines. The one patch of level running was even across a shallow lake before a hands-on scramble up another very steep hill.
I knew I was somewhere in the top dozen runners, and my position was constantly changing as I competed with fellow Hellrunners. Another crossing of the river meant we were only a mile or two from the finish. I managed to overtake another competitor as we raced back across the field; then another who struggled over a fallen tree in the woods. A final leap down a steep embankment, and I sprinted for the finish.
My watch had stopped working so I don't know my exact finish time. Trailplus estimated the distance at about 10 miles but that has yet to be verified, it felt more like 8 (very tough) miles. I calculated that I was in 9th position, but, even though the race was chipped, the organisers thought that I abandoned the race! I have emailed them and am waiting for a reply. Nevertheless, I was very pleased with my run and celebrated with a much-needed bacon roll and cup of hot coffee.

Muddy, wet, bloody, shattered - a happy runner!

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Survival of the Fittest