Thursday, 27 June 2013

Route to Backsand

This is the route to Backsand during weekdays. The old route is out of bounds due to the on-going excavation work.
Park up at the poly tunnels as normal and walk past Newdowns resevoir as you would normally but instead of turning left after the resevoir go straight on and follow the map.

Once at Backsand you need to use the path/track between the bund and the dyke to get to the photohide (anti-clockwise) rather than the more direct clockwise route.
Overall it's somewhat longer than the original route but only by 10-15 minutes. (sorry about the state ofthe map but I had to cobble together 2 Google prints-offs to produce it.)

A general moan and a Scrape update

For those who might have been wondering I have been going out to try and find something to photograph but since Bempton I’ve failed to find anything much to point the camera at and if I have the pictures have been rubbish.
Several times I’ve gone looking for spotted flycatchers in their normal haunts but unlike Mr Ashton I can never find them. I’ve been to Oare several times to try and get some shots of black tailed godwits in flight but no matter what the state of the tide they are always on the island and fast asleep. Heaven only know when they feed. For this weeks visit I arrived to be told some juvenile bearded tits HAD been showing really well most of the morning........always nice to be told what you have missed. Needless to say they stayed deep in the reeds whilst I was there and I failed to get a single shot.
I went back the next day at 7.00 am because I'd been told they showed best early morning.......well they didn’t.
All I got for my 2 visits (32 miles each leg so 128 miles in all) were a few sedge warbler and reed bunting shots, oh and a shot of a distant ruff in breeding plumage.

 I think I need to go out less and twitch a bit more - certainly a day trip to the Isle of Wight (Wilson’s Phalarope) would have provided a better return on investment as would the American golden plover a few weeks ago.
The ruff was rather interesting in that it looked like an aging film star and carried as much bling - coloured leg rings and a blue flag; I’ve tried to find where it originated but the web site has defeated me but here’s some pictures of it.

At the moment the water is still too deep and all that’s there are a few ducks – hopefully it will be pumped in the next couple of weeks.
Access via the normal route is not allowed during the normal working week but Ian tells me the normal route down there can be used of a weekend when no one is working. Access is possible during the week but you have to go out towards Princes reservoir, follow the track around the sea-ward side of the reed filled pool (Newdowns New Pool) and take the track north. This track will eventually lead you to the metal gate on the river bank near Backsand but there are others tracks that branch off that are dead ends so beware.
I’ll try and get hold of a map and mark the route and post it here.
For anyone thinking of visiting Restharrow Scrape it is not at its best at the moment with grass and reed taking over the place. The vegetation that can be reached from the bank will be cut sometime but the presence of young lapwing (3 ), oyster catcher (1) and nesting little grebes preclude cutting at the moment.

British Lions - Comment on the 1st Test

There’s an old adage in rugby – the first name on the team sheet is the kicker. Australia have for several years ignored this preferring to pick their best players and hoping someone will be able to kick the goals. Well on Saturday their selection policy cost them the match. Deal Wanderers Under 15s would have made a better fist of kicking than the Aussie’s managed.
I had predicted an Aussie win but due to their selection policy they lost missing at least 4 kicks on goal.
Other than the result the match panned out much as I thought it would. The Aussie pack stood up quite well in the scrum, the Aussie tackling was in general strong, the Lions attacking flair was weak but, and it’s an important but, the Lions kicked their goals and the Aussies didn’t. It’s interesting that had they kicked as well as Halfpenny did for the Lions they would have won easily........... the refs interpretation of the laws handing the Aussies a host of penalties.
For the Lions G North was the only classy looking player, he scored what can only be described as a brilliant individual try. Cuthbert scored a second try for the Lions but overall behind the scrum the Lions offered little even though the Aussies lost most of their ¾ line to injuries.
Sexton (flyhalf) was in because of his attacking flair and was the  more likely to get the line moving but he failed to deliver - the line was ineffective, his kicking out of hand pretty aimless and he missed a crucial tackle on Falau when he scored his 2nd try.
At scrum half Philips was poor. He ran down blind allies, his kicking was poor and his and Crofts refusal to chase back when Genia took a quick penalty ensured Felau had an easy run in for the first try – the two of them just trotted back slowly after the Aussies had broken out on the side they were defending watching North  and Halfpenny try and shut down the move down .........which they didn’t.
In the scrum most played pretty well without being outstanding. Corbisaro had a good game (some newspapers have blamed him for the second try but a winger(Felau) will always beat a prop in the wide open spaces beside Sexton came no closer to tackling Felau). Youngs put in a huge effort both in tackling and carrying the ball. Adam Jones was strong in the scrum but does absolutely nothing else – just 2 tackles and 2 carries in the whole match. To put this in perspective I have gone to the official match statistics and it shows the tackles (T) and carries (C) each of the front row made.
Corbisaro  C 5 T8
Youngs C 8 T7
Jones C 2 T2
Cole C 0 T4
Vinopola C 3 T5
Hibbard C 3 T2
So Jones managed to contribute less than the substitutes (Cole, Vunipola and Hibbard) even though he was on the pitch 3-4 times as long. He carried and tackled less than anyone else on the pitch – quite an achievement really.
Both second rows were workman like rather than brilliant as were the back row. Warburton ended with the highest tackle count but didn’t carry at all.
Overall Genia was the best player on the park and Felau had a very good game scoring 2 tries and preventing one for the Lions.
 When the substitutes came on the Lions scrum seemed to be under a bit of pressure. Cole and Vunipola have been blamed for this but replaying the action several times I think Cole was actually ok and it was a lack of shove from behind him that was problem.............Parling had come on at that point for A-W Jones.
So what of the next Test – it’s hard to see the team changing that much. In the pack the Lions did what was asked of them. I just think they need to do it a bit more and carry the ball more effectively. A change could occur at scrum half but I struggle to see Gatland dropping a Welshman for an Englishman. A case could be made for dropping Sexton but Farrell is not renowned for his running play so I can’t see what that would achieve other than give the defence extra strength. The centres played ok but didn’t look threatening. The Lions may have options there but Tualagi would need to play brilliantly in the mid week game or Roberts  recover from injury to push their way in.
On the wing I don’t see anything changing even though Cuthbert didn’t look good and still looks off form to me. Halfpenny will remain if for no other reason than he kicked us to victory and is the best full back we have.
Predictions for the next test?
If the Lions don’t improve a lot they will lose. We have a small advantage in the scrum but as I’ve said before the Aussie front row are better than most people on these islands think. They’ve selected O’Connor at flyhalf which helps the Lions cause but Leali’ifano has recovered and will play meaning they have someone who can kick.

I've just seen the team.
The Lions have made 5 changes (now that I didn’t expect). Corbisero, O’Connell and it seems Mike Phillips are out due to injury with Croft and Cuthbert being dropped for Lydiate and Bowe.
Vunipola comes into the front row which will weaken the scrum a little but strengthen the running power (not that Corbiero was poor carrying the ball), Parling comes in for O’Connell – fine for the lineout but less strength everywhere else so potentially a significant problem both in the tight and loose. Youngs in for Phillips – Phillips played so poorly he should have been dropped anyway; a move for the better. Lydiate for Croft – I don’t like Croft that much but he actually played pretty well and I haven’t seen Lydiate doing that much so I don't understand this selection at all. Finally Bowe is in for Cuthbert. Since Cuthbert has been so poor I don’t see that as a shock or a problem.
Overall I think the forwards are weaker so our advantage in the scrum is eroded but I still think the real problem is in the backs. There’s no one who will open the Aussies up, nor will the substitutes (Cuthbert and Farrell) change that.
The Aussies now have a reasonable kicker in Leali'ifano and still look strong behind the scrum so overall .....................................Aus to win. Rugby in the northern hemisphere is not as good as we like to think it is and to win (and remember the lions normally lose tours) the team has to be good AND playing well. This set of Lions are neither. The one thread of hope is that the ref will be more sympathetic to the style of play adopted by the Lions/northern hemisphere teams.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

British Lions vs Australia match 1

It’s raining and there’s nothing about even if it wasn’t rainging so ..........
Well the Lions side for the first test has been announced and I thought I’d pen some thoughts before rather than after the match (when it’s a little easier to predict the outcome). As I said before I hope the Lions will win but I really do have serious doubts. The Lions as a team have not looked that impressive in their warm up matches and managed to lose the last one to the Brumbies and were on the backfoot for much of the gane against the Reds. The other problem is that most of the opposition has been rubbish and it’s been difficult to tell who is or who isn’t in form.......until the Brumbies that is.
So what of the selection:
Halfpenny – no question he’s been the star of the show.
Cuthbert and North – North no question, the best winger we have, Cuthbert in contrast has been poor and doesn’t deserve the place, most of the time he’s looked as if he’s been sulking and didn’t want to be there.
O’Driscoll and Davies – do we have any other centres left standing? I didn’t think O’Driscoll should be on the tour and Davies whilst looking a good player also looks slow so I don’t see this as a pairing to worry the Aussies.
Sexton – predictable. Farrell is strong in the tackle and kicks the goals brilliantly but no sign he can pull the strings required.
Phillips – just about there but Ben Youngs hasn’t done anything wrong (other than being picked for the Brumbies game!)
Adam Jones – seen to be the best tight head but does absolutely nothing else. Cole should have got the nod. He’s a good a prop and does a lot more work around the field. Jones could have been on the bench and come on if Cole got in trouble (with the ref more likely than the opposition).
Tom Youngs – I think he’s done just about enough to get the nod over Hibbert. Best was not and should not be considered. Youngs will carry and tackle well but as I implied there’s not much in it.
Corbisiero – only been out there 5 minutes but probably should have been there all along. A very good prop but I would have gone with Vunipola. He’s been one of the stand-out props for me and an important ball carrier. Still he’s on the bench and could make more of an impact as the game wears on.
Jones and O’Connell – no competition really other than Parling though neither fill me with confidence. An area where the Aussies could have a real advantage.
Croft, Warburton and Hislip – I see this an area where we could really be taken to the cleaners. I don’t think Warburton is playing well, he’s not carrying at all, I haven’t seen him win much on the floor so all he’s done is tackle (and others have done that better) Tippuric should have got the nod.
Hislip has been the best No.8 but I still don’t have faith in him. He looked good against the weak opposition the Lions have experienced to date but I think he will fade when the opposition gets better. Croft – I don’t like Croft. He doesn’t do a blindside wing forwards job. He’s good in the line out and can score wide out ....but we have wingers for that.
On the bench (and not mentioned) Parling’s been good in the lineout but lacking in bulk (as is Alun-Win Jones). Dan Lydiate is lucky to get a place I’ve not seen him do anything. Sean Maitland WHAT!!!!! Absolutely stupid selection I know he's only just arrived but Zebo should have got the place.
What of the Aussies – O’Connor at flyhalf is a gamble (I would have gone with the Brumbies flyhalf who’s name eludes me). The Lions should dominate the front row but that rarely leads to a victory on it’s own (I’m English and should know). In the second row and backrow I think the Aussies will be superior.
In the centre the Aussies to shade it and on the wings I expect a ding dong battle so no prediction.
All in all I predict a Lions defeat and if the Aussie front row do quite well it could be by a decent margin.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Rye Harbour. 18th June

Since returning from Bempton I have been scratching around East Kent trying to find something to photograph......or should I say trying to find anything to photograph. I’ve failed. Several times I have gone looking for spotted flycatchers but no luck despite the fact that Chidders and Martyn found one.
Given a favourable weather forecast today I went to Rye Harbour. Now don’t get excited, I didn’t go to Castle Water (hadn’t planned to) nor did my Birdguides text alert inform me of the golden oriole so that's a bird that remains absent from my Greater Kent list. (Which by the way has only been troubled twice this year – the Eastbourne Bonaparte’s and the ruddy shelduck at Marquenterre. For anyone who is unclear it’s my list so I make the rules and both these places are well within the Greater Kent region..... as is Bempton for that matter).
Anyway back to Rye Harbour. A quiet walk down past Lime Kiln cottage seeing a few linnet and skylark. Most of the waders have now disappeared, as has the water, and the brand new hide looks out over a nice large patch of drying mud – I think they need to find a way of retaining a little water. Just beyond the new hide I could just about see and certainly hear the little terns calling (most are still on Flat Beach) and on the inner fence line I found a juvenile wheatear hopping around which after a few minutes was joined by dad with a small caterpillar or grub:

Juvvy wheatear

I did see wheatears 3 more times as I wandered about but only fleetingly so I don’t know whether they have managed to raise more than one chick but whatever it’s good to see them successfully breeding at Rye.
As I walked along the beach track a couple of little terns came a little closer as they chased off a kestrel, then a black headed gull and finally a couple of wood pigeons  out of their airspace.
Little tern
One, possibly two, LTs seem to be nesting on the ridges 50 yards inland from the roadway (well they were sitting on the ground the whole time) and the others (those on Flat Beach) may still be having thoughts in that direction because they seemed to spend a lot of time chasing each other around.

Little tern on nest?

Not little terns
As I walked to the hides there was little evidence of terns carry food back to their nests and that thought was reinforced when I got to the hides. I couldn’t see many tern nests clearly but those I could see clearly had the adults incubating. One common tern did have a newly hatched chick but it was the only one I saw. The Sandwich terns were more distant but again it looks as if they are still incubating.

Common tern with chick
Some of the BH gulls (possibly most) had well developed chicks some of which were even flying but there were a few younger chicks and birds still sitting on eggs...... most confusing.
Feeding junior....disgusting

I didn’t actually see that many med gull but one is still incubating on the island immediately in front of the Parks Hide.
I spent most of the morning in the Parks hide and was treated to close-up views of little grebe, redshank, and a common tern that landed right in front of me:
Little grebe


Common tern
I did sit in the Steve Denny hide for a little while and this gives very good views of several terns on their nests and the one where the chick was seen but photographically this is a hide for the afternoon due to its orientation.
Whilst it was sunny when I arrived the sun by and large disappeared pretty quick and most of the morning was in thin cloud but approaching midday things deteriorated markedly as a thin sea mist started to roll in leaving a white sky; still ok for photographing birds on the deck but useless for the flight shots I had been hoping for (not that the terns were doing a lot of flying).
I only saw a few ringed plovers, 2 chasing each other around, a small flock of 5 or 6 flying around Flat Beach and 2 individuals feeding distantly, there were quite a lot of tufted ducks around (no chicks), and a great crested grebe was attacked by the BH gulls when it came too close to one of the islands.
So I didn’t get the flight shots I was hoping for but an enjoyable morning none the less.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Bempton 2013

This year the Steve Ashton School of Photography was held at Bempton with Martyn (a new-comer to the group), Tim, Peter, Mike, Alan , me and of course the great sage himself.  As normal the plan was to depart East Kent early Sunday morning so as to arrive in time to get a photographic session in Sunday afternoon.
A week ago, after what seemed like months of cold gloomy weather Steve’s confidence of good weather was, for once, getting a little shaky but he shouldn’t have worried for as the day of departure grew near the weather prospects improved and we arrived in wall to wall sunshine – typical of all our tours to date. As Steve so often tells us “It’s all in the planning”.
As expected Bempton was alive with gannets, razorbills, guillemots and kittiwakes but the first 15-20 minutes was spent with the tree sparrows – there were loads of them. This colony has increased significantly over the last few years. I don’t know why but they are doing something right up there.

Juvenile tree sparrow - at least something is managing to breed

The sparrows seem to be nesting under the roof of the visitor centre; there were no house sparrows around. Do they compete for nest sites? The sparrows also fan out across the cliffs so you could find them almost anywhere on the cliff top fields and fences.
Most of the afternoon was spent on the gannets because there were less auks at close quarters than usual and by that time of the day the cliff face is in the shade.

The light was brilliant but we had a table booking for 7.00 pm so around 6.15 we had to leave.
We had a nice meal the highlight being when Martyn couldn’t decide which desert to have so had 2 earning the name “2 Puddings” for the rest of the trip (and possibly forever).
Monday (3rd) was North Yorkshire Moors day with a local bird tour group – Yorkshire Coast Nature - with Richard and Steve. As a tour of the moors and forests it was very good in that they showed us a load of places with good birding but photographically we didn’t get very much.  I didn’t keep a full list of birds seen but some of highlights were spotted flycatcher, common redstart, red grouse, golden plover, ring ouzel and whinchat. I only managed blog quality images of the grouse and very distant shots of the plover and whinchats.  We also went to the forest at a place know for goshawk and dipper and although a goshawk was seen by Richard (and glimpsed by Martyn and Mike) I didn’t see it and the dipper family had fledged and seeming moved on.
We dined at a pub near the forest and after went to try for nighthawks – this was successful with 2 or 3 showing almost overhead (they had only come in during the last few days). This was a great way  to end a long day because for several of the team nighthawk was a lifer.
Tuesday morning (4th) saw us assemble at 5am for another session at Bempton for gannets in the morning sun. For the first hour I think we had the reserve to ourselves and again I concentrated on the gannets  trying to get some shots of the feet hanging down – we had been told that the males had blue stripes and the females yellow/green but every bird I saw and photographed had yellow/green feet.
A lot of the time they were too close for the 400mm lens
Several pairs of gannets were fencings:

And I had the pleasure of a gannet landing around 5-6 yards away, posing (see my Flickr site) then plucking grass from the bank for it’s nest

At 7.00 it was back for breakfast then  back up to the moors for a more thorough search for red grouse. I don’t know how Steve and “2 Puddings” managed to work out where we had been the previous day but they did and eventually the search was rewarded with some brilliant grouse sightings and shots.
Grouse - male

Grouse - female
A lot of the grouse had young but I never managed a shot of those.
We did see golden plover and curlew as well but never close enough to get a decent shot.
We also went back to the whinchat spots and at one a whinchat popped up right beside the lead car (driven by Steve) and they rattled off about 10,000 shots whilst the rear car watched on in envy at a distance. Now I thought the role of the tour leader was to put his clients onto birds not get the shots himself and only move out of the way once the bird has flown and /or their cards were full.
The closest views the rear car  managed
Still tours with Steve are a little different.
In the evening we had another great meal and “2 Puddings” repeated his performance of the first night with 2 colossal puddings which cemented his nickname though he did concede that getting both down was a struggle.
Day 3 the weather finally let us down and it was drizzling when we got up at 5.00 so I and several others didn’t bother going out though Steve, 2 Puddings and Alan did. After breakfast the rain had stopped we went along to Bempton to photograph the residents in gloom. For some totally unknown reason I spent the gloomiest day of the week trying to photograph auks on the wing. Not the most sensible thing to do but I hadn’t taken many and there was always the ones sitting on the cliffs.

 I’m not sure how the auks are doing because whilst there were thousands of them there seemed less on the cliffs near the view points than my previous visit and I only saw one guillemot sitting on an egg:

I did manage a spectacled guile in flight – I only actually saw 2 the whole stay so that was a minor miracle.

I think it was this day that Steve earned the name “Showers”. He showered before going out at 5.00am, again after breakfast, again when we got back and again before going to bed (or something along those lines).
Day 4 was again up to the cliffs for some though I stayed at the hotel – I needed to be close to the loo. I also decided it was prudent to miss breakfast.
The plan was to head home after breakfast but to break up the journey by dropping in at Lakenheath to try for the red footed falcon.  There was a brief discussion of the route – either via the Humber bridge and down past Lincoln (the most direct at about 170 miles) or via the M18/A1/A14 (probably the quickest even though 210 miles or so).  Showers Ashton doesn’t believe in maps because “it’s all in the head”. Well I’m not sure what’s in his head because I spent an age trying (and failing) to work out where we were on the A1 only to realise we were actually on the M1. This “short cut” (M18 across to the M1 then east on the A14 from Rugby) works out at around 240 miles!!!!  Masterful navigation by Steve and his head.
As I said earlier, these tours are different! As it was the red footed falcon hadn’t been seen all day and had been very elusive over the previous few days so we only stayed at Lakenheath an hour or so. I also think Steve was craving for another shower.
So there you have it. We went for gannets, auks and grouse and we got pictures of gannets, auks and grouse.......thousands of them, plus quite a few of tree sparrows. A lucky few got whinchat and we all put on a few pounds from the amount we ate.......especially 2 Puddings.
Planning will start soon for next year’s trip though there is a rumour we might go somewhere more exotic ............ perhaps Steve will use a map there.