Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Scrapes again

Wednesday 31st.

Over the last 2 days first the grass and now the reeds have been cut on Restharrow scrape. There are still a few stands of reed remaining but only where the water was too deep to reach. Thanks to the Conservation Group and Dave Kirkaldy for doing the hard work.
Whilst at Restharrow yesterday (and before the reeds were cut) a wood sandpiper was showing very well though the reeds prevented any decent shots. It flew off at 10.20 whilst I was there and to my knowledge did not return.

Wood Sandpiper

The tide was all wrong but this morning I had another look at Backsand arriving around 8.45am. As expected the shanks had returned to the river/estuary and only a lone green sandpiper was there. The good news is that the mud is just beginning to show.
I hung around for an hour or so because a grey heron dropped in about 25 yrds from the hide and fiddled about preening for around 30 minutes.

The whole morning there had been 10-12 BH gulls on the scrape but after ignoring the heron for at least 90 minutes they suddenly took exception to it and started dive bombing. They didn't succeed in frightening the heron off though he did respond vocally and by keeping his beak skywards.

Responding vocally

Keeping beak pointing skywards

Looking totally stupid

After that he went to feed out of range so I departed as a little egret flew in.

Chiddy's Black Redstart

The other day I spoke to Chiddy about his black redstart pictures and was told where they were. I was surprised at the location as I had checked it out about a month ago and found nothing.
Anyway yesterday I went down - I'd already had a look at Restharrow and Backsand (on the trusty bike) and only seen green sands, little egrets and a heron.

Once there I searched for about 30 minutes and was about to give up when I found mother and children(2) on some tarmac behind a metal fence. The light direction was all wrong and they were in the shadows most of the time anyway so the camera remained unused.
Fortunately they were pretty mobile and eventually moved to a better location to see an were in the sun. This area was also behind a metal fence and the gap between the uprights was 2-2.5 inches so the pictures had to be taken between the bars (I put this forward as an excuse for the quality of some of the pictures).
A lot of the feeding seemed to take place on the ground where the view was obscured by the tall weeds and grass but my first photo opportunity was of a feeding where they were in view though the view was partially obscured from the camera due to the metal bars.

Feed me!!!!!
A little later I found one of the juveniles on a shed roof and due to the metal fence obscuring my approach I got really close.

Whilst the birds moved around quite a bit the next half hour provided a number of photo-opportunities though some would question the aesthetics of the location. Who cares, I got to use the camera.

Several locals wandered past (walking dogs, just strolling about) and all seemed to know about the black redstarts and one old gent told me this was the second brood and told me where she had reared the first. Great news really.

For those out there who care my ankle is getting better slowly. It's still noticeably swollen and although ok to walk it still swells up when I do so but as I said it's getting better. The real problem is my now total lack of fitness. After being sat on my backside for best part of a month I'm so out of condition it's unbelievable and my greek god like physique has suffered a little too.......

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Scrape Updates 24th July

With the heat and wind of recent weeks the levels in the scrapes are dropping.
At Restharrow the levels are now quite low but that's not the problem, the problem is the vegetation. All the islands are heavily overgrown with little mud on show. Sedge has also been growing strongly in front of the hide so although some waders have been seen ( little stint, wood sand, green sand have all been seen in the last few days - though not by me) they can only be seen either through the vegetation or on the distant islands.
I understand some grass and sedge cutting is planned for this afternoon/evening so hopefully things will improve. I don't know how extensive the cutting will be though because a little grebe can still be seen sitting on a nest to the right of the hide
At Backsand water levels are dropping but still has an inch or so before the islands break the surface - yesterday whilst there I could see a black headed gull standing in the water and the water was only half way up it's tarsus. The sedge/reeds there will need topping soon otherwise the view from the hides will be restricted. I've cleared in front of the "photographic hide" but to do the other two by hand is too much.
Yesterday I was there for the high tide roost. When I arrived there was 1 common and 2 green sandpipers present plus sigles of green and redshank.. About 2 hrs before the high tide the birds started arriving and eventually there were 18 greenshank and 25 redshank present. No sandpipers came in on the tide.
I took a few shots but everything was distant.
Green sandpiper



Shanks at roost between the two islands

Take off

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Rye Harbour 23rd July.

Well after 3 weeks or so stuck at home I finally went out.  I’ve been house-bound because I decided to have a go at that extremely dangerous game called DIY and came a cropper. I was repairing the roof prior to painting the soffits etc and when coming down the ladder I had to step off the ladder onto a small wall (about 18 inches high) well my foot slipped off the wall and down I went. Needless to say the air was blue as was my ankle a day or two later.
After a couple of days I was hobbling around and after a week I could walk pretty reasonably... well for a few minutes. Now I can walk about pretty much ok and without pain however the ankle is still pretty swollen and it swells up even more if I use it.
Still I had to give it a go sometime so yesterday I went to Rye, partly because Chidders and Martyn found a few things to point the camera at last w/e but mainly because I could cycle to the hides and minimise the use of the ankle.
On the bird front I didn’t see anything much out of the ordinary other than the roseate tern and that stayed very distant so if you are after revelations stop reading now!
First stop was the ternary pool because the sun is in a better direction there in the morning. A few BH gulls with chicks were on the island in front of the hide plus a family of Sandwich terns. The youngster was not however local in that as far as I know not a single chick was fledged from Rye this year. Poor weather and predation by the med gulls seems to have been their downfall and it seems foxes and badgers have been tucking in too. Indeed, whilst I was in the hide looking east across the Quarry a fox trotted across the front of the hide carry a chick of something.

Sandwich tern plus juvvy
Also from the Ternary pool hide were a few little grebes and quite a few redshanks though these stayed distant.
A lot of Sandwich terns were flying past carrying fish so I spent a few minutes trying to get some flight shots of these from outside the hide – I got some shots but the quality wasn’t up to much. The best shots I managed during this particular session were of 2 jet fighters that came low over the reserve which I’ve been informed were F16s from the Dutch air force.

F 16

Sandwich tern
As the sun came round I went into the hide looking east over the Quarry. There was a lot more activity on this pool though much of it was very distant – dunlin, redshank, a summer plumage bar-tailed godwit, and lots of terns.
On the nearest island there were 2 families of common terns with chicks. (Whilst the Sandwich terns (and little terns for that matter) failed to breed the common terns have fared a little better with quite a few chicks being seen. Common terns breed later than Sandwich and have enjoyed better sea conditions). One pair of common tern parents was very diligent in guarding their chicks with one adult always being in attendance but the other pair deserted their chicks for long periods and the chicks insisted on exploring the island – their days could be numbered.

Common tern family
It was from this east facing hide that the roseate could be seen though whether I would have found it is debateable!

Roseate tern (bl;ack beak)
My final port of call was the hide on the beach side of the ternary pool. On one of the islands was a ringed plover and a group of redshank were feeding in front of the hide.

There were 6 present near the hide and 2 of them decided to have a scrap within camera shot:

Fighting redshanks
One pecked at something between the legs of the other causing the second one to go ballistic.
That was when I called it a day. As I said nothing spectacular but after being confined to barracks for 3 weeks it was nice to get out.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

3rd Test – Lions WIN.

Most of the time admitting I was wrong is a far from happy occasion however Saturday morning it was positively joyous – the Lions had won and won handsomely. I really didn’t think they could pull it off.
Gatland had made a number (6 I think) changes from the team that lost in the second test and several of the changes made significant differences. In the backrow O’Brian had a monster of a game racking up a huge tackle count and carried the ball aggressively. Faletau likewise carried the ball a huge amount. As a consequence Warburton was not missed at all (good tackler but only rarely carries) and Faletau brought more to the table than Hislip. And as for losing thie rcaptain (Warburton) well A-W Jones did a marvellous job and led by example.
At scrum half Gatland has had no idea what his best option was and opted for Phillips but as before  he still looked pedestrian and when he went off (Murray coming on) things sharpened up.
In the centre Roberts was back and Davies retained at O’Driscoll’s expense. The press have been apoplectic about BOD being dropped but today’s result showed it was the right choice. The Welsh centres are very familiar with each others play and Roberts size is a weapon – the opposition are frightened when he gets the ball and that fear opens up the opportunities for his partner.
There is a saying that a game is won or lost in the forwards with the backs only determining by how much. This game really did pan out that way. This was in part due to the front row (Hibbard and Corbisaro in for Tom Youngs and Vunipola though both were retained on the bench) but was also down to the ref Roman Poite who penalised the Australian front row and Alexander in particular relentlessly (correctly in my mind).
In the second test it took the ref a long time to realise the scrum going down was not due to Vunipola but Alexander but on Saturday Poite was onto him straight away.
Alexander props with his shoulder low – below his hips – and he has a rounded back this means on impact he will be driving the opposite prop downwards often causing the opposite prop to FOLD. Refs who don’t understand what is going on consequently award a penalty against the folding prop (Vunipola in the second test) when in reality his only guilt is not be able to resist a half a tonne of downwards pressure with his back.
Corbisaro  packs down with his shoulders level with his hips so as to drive straight but where he has the advantage over Vunipola is he takes up a position with a clearly observable hollow back. This helps resist the downward drive of Alexander (though can’t stop it) but most importantly it shows the ref it is not him driving he wins the penalty.  Alexander’s problem is that if he hits level he’s not strong enough against the best props and goes backwards and gets penalised, so he goes for the downward hit and hopes the refs don’t understand what is going on.
Corbisaro is a better prop than Vunipola but the advantage to the Lions would have been lost without a ref with Poite’s knowledge and willingness to penalise Alexander relentlessly and to the extent that he sent him to the sin bin for 10 minutes. The Aussie coaches saw the writing was on the wall and he didn’t come back on.
Also in the second test the Aussie pushed hard before the ball came in (Illegal) but it was the  Lions who were penalised for delaying the put in. Again Poite would have none of it and penalised Aus for early hits and pushing early.  At last there was a ref who knew and was happy to apply the rules as written.......and the Lions prospered.
So on to the game.
Things couldn’t have started better for the Lions. Genia knocked on, scrum, Aus penalised, free kick to Lions, Philips takes quick tap and several plays later Corbisaro scores a try by the posts – 7 points and we are only 90 seconds into the match. Welcome back Corbisaro – already a contender for man of the match!
The next 20 minutes had a sameness about it. The match was dominated by the scrum with Aussie pack being penalised (normally Alexander but not exclusively) at just about every one giving the Lions field position and loads of points. The final penalty Alexander gave away hoisted the Lions to 19-3 ahead, reduced the Aussies to 14 men as Alexander was sin binned and it looked as if it was going to be plain sailing for the Lions. But no, the Aussies have to spoil the party and started to play a bit. Whilst down to 14 men the Aussies didn’t concede a point and when back to full strength started to threaten. Approaching half time the Aussies were awarded a series of penalties where they kicked to the corner and this eventually lead to O’Connor wriggling over with Leali’ifano converting.  It was now 19-10 and half time.
Second half and the Aussies keep coming. As they are now they are in touch on the scoreboard they start to kick the penalties their pressure is bringing, 19-13 then 19-16 and I must admit I though the Lions were going to clutch defeat from the jaws of victory but.....
Youngs came on for Hibbard (who’d had a strong game) and immediately starts doing what he does best - scrambling around tackling anything that moves. Lions get a scrum, penalty and needless to say Halfpenny kicks the points. 22-16........
Connor Murray on for Philips (who has not had a good game) and Cole of for Adam Jones (very strong in the scrum as normal and an important part of the domination we’d enjoyed in that area).
It was around this point that the Lions started playing with a bit more confidence behind the scrum. A few thrusts by the forwards up the middle then Davies steps out of a tackle, moves the ball out to Halfpenny who runs it into the Aussie 22 then passes inside to Sexton and TRY. My lounge erupted. The neighbours must have thought  “what the fcuk is going on in there “......then I calmed down and sat down. Halfpenny converts 29-16.......surely this must be a winning score!
Next significant phase of play is on the Lions line but they hold out.
Farrell on for Sexton. Now Sexton looked decidedly miffed about this but Farrell has kept the bench warm the entire series and has been very positive in his support of the team so I was glad he got on. Pretty petty of Sexton really; it’s the strength of the squad that wins tours like these and anyway Sexton has looked pretty ordinary for most of the tour including this match. Anyway almost immediately the Lions score (though Farrell had nothing to do with it). The Aussies kicked out of defence and Halfpenny ran at them (the backs now getting confident), he breaks down the outside then feeds North who runs it in from the 22 without a hand being landed on him. Halfpenny converts 34-16. Only a quiet eruption in the lounge this time. The game is definitely won now.
Vunipola on for Corbisaro (who had a great game).
Robert scores a try of beautiful simplicity. The Lions were attacking near the Aussie 22. Murray gets the ball, delays the pass just for a moment before flicking the ball to Roberts who’s running flat out on a superb line and goes over more or less unopposed. Absolutely brilliant. Halfpenny converts 41-16 and the route is complete. The Aussies had been stuffed up front and the backs finished them off.
The remaining subs come on and time runs out without any further score. Lions win the series.
What a difference a week makes.
I know I’ve been pessimistic about the Lions but they gave me a lot to be pessimistic about .......until the last 30 minutes of the tour. I’m still left wondering what would have happened if Poite wasn’t the ref though. He got the scrum right and allowed the Lions to compete at the breakdown (unlike Pollock – ref of the first match). It’s wrong that the outcome of a match should be so dependent on who refs the match, after all they all have the same rule book. Still today it worked in our favour and that will do.

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

The Lions lose the second test

Well Imy prediction was correct, the Aussies won. Sad that I was rather hoping to be proved wrong.
At the time I was probably like millions of other rugby supporters on these islands watching hoping they could pull it off but as always screaming encouragement at the TV failed to inspire the Lions in that eventful last 5 minutes, The Aussies scored the only try of the match and it was over.
On the score board it was really close but in reality the Aussies were in the driving seat most of the match. Their forwards were not over whelmed (as predicted) and their backs tried to play some rugby.....which was more than could be said for the Lions.
In many respects few Lions played really badly it’s just that they were ineffective –  though I probably mean they defended well. The only short period of real dominance came in the first few minutes when the Lions set up several driving mauls from the line out and the only answer the Aussies had was to pull the maul down and concede a penalty. After the 2nd or 3rd such offence the ref said do it again and someone will go to the sin bin for 10 minutes. The lions should have gone for another lineout  and drive as they were now only 15 yards from the Aussie try line but instead Warburton went for the kick. We got 3 points but we never threatened their line again, and inexplicably we hardly saw a maul driving maul again.
If you read some of the on-line press reports (and all the Welsh comments that accompany these reports) everything that went wrong  was down to Maku Vunipola because he gave away 2 penalties in quick succession. However 2 learned props (Graham Price of Wales and Paul Wallace of Ireland) thought he was hard done by and the penalties should have gone the other way. As the game wore on the ref realised he'd got it wrong and the penalties started to go Maku’s way and he was driving the opposition back strongly at the end.
The Lions problems lie in their game plan (if they had one that is) and the inability for anyone to get over the gain line or make a break/half break. The lack of gain line success by the forwards was in part due to selections – Adam Jones may scrummage well but does not  carry at all, Parling tries to carry but is too small, Warburton doesn’t carry, Hislip prefers running in the wide spaces as opposed to smashing it up  and, if the  assumption was the others in the forwards were going to do they didn’t  (just look at the “yard gained” in the Official match stats if you don’t believe me.).
I don’t know what is going on at half back because whoever plays they are incapable to getting a move going and the centres were completely ineffective. What of the wings? They never saw the ball so all they did was tackle and chase kicks.
The key statistics in any rugby match is possession and territory – both these went to the Aussies by about 2:1. It’s simple, no side can hope to win with only 33% possession. I think this is a particularly interesting stat because we were supposed to have the dominant pack but they seem to have had all the ball. Why?  Simple really, whenever we won the ball we immediately kicked it back to them and they kept hold of it especially in the second half when we struggled to get over the halfway line.
Needless to say with the Aussies having all the ball some of the Lions racked up a lot of tackles – Lydiate and Vunipola leading the stats. (Even Adam Jones managed 4 this week but that’s still only ¼ of those done by Vunipola).
To cap a bad day at the office Warburton (the captain) got injured with 10 minutes to go and is out of the final test. He missed the first few games because of injury and now the last. I hate to say “I told you so” but in my first post about the Lions I said “I also worry about Warburton as captain – I’m not convinced he will get through a tour such as this uninjured.”
So what of the decider.
It’s simple – we need players who can take it to the Aussies and put them on the back foot AND we need to keep hard won ball.
In the front row Hibard may replace Youngs (not that Youngs has played poorly) ditto Corbisaro for Vunipola  with Youngs and Vunipola being on the bench. It will strengthen the scrum a little and mean Maku avoids being blamed for everything that goes wrong. It will however reduce our tackling ability because both Youngs and Vunipola have been heroic in that area and significantly.
I also think that one (or both ) 2nd rows need to be changed with someone heavier put in to take it to the Aussies. We need some carriers in the back row (Falatau and/or O’Brian). Playing the safe game and hoping we can scrape a win is not an option – the Aussies have got the measure of that.
The same applies in the centre – Roberts and Tualagi must feature – perhaps start with Roberts and have Manu on the bench. There has got to be at minimum 1 impact centre or wing on the bench.
I’m easy about the back 3 retaining their places mainly because they can’t do much if the centres don’t give them the ball as happened on Saturday.
Whatever we do though I still predict an Aussie win and with it the series. They will be cock a hoop with the victory and if they start playing with confidence we are in trouble.
I’ve been saying from the start that the Aussies are better up front than the Lions fans think and we would struggle to win it with the pack alone so that confrontation has gone as I thought it would. Where I was wrong was behind the scrum. I thought with the centres and wings we had we would over power them. Aussie tackling has always been very good (It’s had to be in recent years) but I expected that with the amount of possession we would get they would be broken down eventually and our huge backs would prosper. WRONG. We’ve got the amount of possession I thought we would get but for whatever reason we've lacked punch behind the scrum- though I did say in my first post that I thought O’Driscoll was past it and should not be on the tour.
The only place where we have totally outclassed them is in place kicking where Halfpenny and Farrell have been unbelievably good -I don’t blame Halfpenny for the last miss that could have won the game as it was always on the very limit of his range (as judged by one success and one failure from a similar distance).The Lions should have taken a quick tap and trusted their own play to create a better scoring opportunity. That they didn’t have the confidence to go for it speaks volumes.
Lions announce their team.
I can’t be bothered to rewrite the above but the team has now been announced.
Hibbard and Corbisaro have come into the front row with Youngs and Vunipola moving to the bench.
Parling retains his 2nd row position with A-W Jones though Gray has come onto the bench. I would have dropped Parling.
O’Brian and Faletau both play in the back row.
Philips comes back in at Scrum half with Murray on the bench so no place at all for Ben Youngs – Gatland has had no idea at all about what is going on at scrum half and his selection here have been erratic to say the least.
The back row is completely different from that that started the first test and only Lydiate retained from the second – another area where Gatland has been at a complete loss as to who should play.
J Davies and J Roberts are now the centre pairing which is what I thought should happen with BOD dropped completely; Manu Tuilagi getting the bench spot. Fine with that.
So most of my predictions are in but I still suspect it’s too late. The Aussies now have a settled team whereas we are still making wholesale changes as we try to find a way to play. So as I said an Aussie win and with it the series.