Saturday, 14 March 2015

Waterbirds in the Picture!

We have a lot of water in and around Tamworth – rivers, canals, lakes, ponds, streams, drainage channels, worked-out gravel pits, old quarries… Which means we have a wealth of water birds. I’m getting better at identifying them, but I’m not much good at capturing them on camera – birds are not very co-operative about having their photo taken! But I was quite pleased with the ones I took earlier this week, and I thought I'd share them for a Saturday Snapshot.
I'm just quackers about ducks!
As you might expect, mallards are ten a penny everywhere you go, but even though they’re so common, I always enjoy watching them. I love the iridescent colours of the drakes’ plumage, and the glorious markings on the females – from a distance they look brown and drab, but close to they’re a riot of patterns, in more shades of brown and beige and cream than you’ve ever dreamed of.
This Canada goose was just raising his wings as I took this.
And there are masses of Canada geese, all very vocal, and not a bit shy. To be honest they can be a nuisance, and occasionally seem quite threatening, because they get so used to people feeding them, that every time they see someone they rush up, demanding titbits. It's a shame, because bread (which is what they usually get given) is bad for all waterfowl - it doesn't meet their nutritional needs, and can cause wing deformities, which prevent birds flying.

Mute swans look so ungainly when they walk on land, but as long as they stand still
they still look beautiful.
There are beautiful, graceful  mute swans who tend to keep themselves to themselves. When I first came to Tamworth there were lots of swans in Tamworth - the town had one of the biggest swan populations in the Midlands, but I think the numbers have declined over the years, although the geese have increased.
A moorhen - this photo is a little blurred, but I rather like it. The moorhen was racing along the bank,
and it shows the green legs, and the red beak with the yellow tip. 
Then there are moorhens, which have greenish legs, and red marks on the face and beak, and yellow tips and end of the beak.

And a coot, with its white beak and white mark on the head.
And there are coots, with white beaks and head marks.

Birds perched on a kerb in a carpark by Borrowpit Lake, Some kind of gull
I think - not tern, because their tails aren't crossed.
Various gulls and terns flock to Tamworth, filling the air with their raucous squawks, and their acrobatic antics, and perching in the most unlikely places.
Blobby bird... An out of focus tufted duck. I do wish he'd stayed still, just for a moment!
Sadly, at the moment there’s no sign of the crested grebes I saw last summer, but I did spot a pair of tufted ducks, which are not exactly rare, but are nowhere near as common as mallards, and are certainly much shyer. As soon as I pointed the camera at them they took off at a great rate of knots, and this was all I managed to get… a blobby bird!
AI guess these hybrid ducks are oddities, but I think they are beautiful.
I had better luck with these beauties, two of our hybrids. They’re a cross between mallards and other waterfowl, and there are a few of them around. I’ve featured them before, because they fascinate me. Over the last few years they’ve bred, and I think these are descendants (if that's the right word) because they are lighter, with more colour variation.
An oystercatcher! In landlocked Tamworth!
Now this is the bird I was really excited about, because I’m positive it’s an oystercatcher, which is amazing, since they are coastal birds, and we’re about as far from the sea as you can get. It’s very distinctive, with those red eyes, feet and legs, and that red beak, which must be as vicious as it looks because it can break open oysters. Apparently they do breed on inland sites, by water, and then they eat earthworms – this one was digging his beak into the damp earth when I spotted him, and it seems to have some brown soil stuck halfway up the beak. If anyone can confirm my identification  of this bird I would be grateful - and if I'm wrong I'm sorry!

Herons are so amazing, with those long spindly legs and their elegant
necks, but they're deadly hunters, spearing fish and small mammals
with their sharp, pointed beaks.
Finally a grey heron. Isn’t he gorgeous? I am so pleased with this picture – you can see the feathers really clearly, and that wispy ‘beard’ beneath his beak. There are quite common really, but some of them look very scruffy indeed, while others are kind of faded looking. But the colours and markings on this one are particularly crisp, bright and clear. Herons look incredibly elegant  with their long, spindly legs, and graceful necks, but they are savage killers, and their sharp, pointed beaks like a spear to catch fish and small mammals.

Saturday Snapshot is hosted by Melinda at West Metro Mommy Reads, and you'll find all kinds of photos there, from all around the world.

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Seagulls and Crab Pots!

Well, Christmas and New Year have been and gone, and the world is slowly getting get back to normal. We had some snow on Boxing Day, then the temperature plummeted and everything was covered in ice and thick frost, until yesterday, when it got a little warmer, but very windy. So, somewhat perversely I suppose, I’ve got some nice, cheerful, sunshiny piccies for my Saturday Snapshot! These were taken in Brixham, on a lovely sunny day back at the end of August when we were kitten sitting for our Elder Daughter and her Boyfriend while they went on holiday – they acquired two little black cats after they’d booked their trip, then found the local cattery was full up…  So, of course, it was Mum and Dad to the rescue, and we had a wonderful (but unplanned) stay in Devon!
A view of Brixham - isn't it beautiful?
While we were there we had a day out in Brixham, which is a beautifully unspoilt little fishing town, and isn’t really ‘touristified’, if you know what I mean, and we thoroughly ourselves. As we arrived the first thing we noticed was the picturesque row of old, brightly coloured, fishermen’s cottages up on the cliff (though I doubt if many fishermen live in them these days).
The Golden Hind - at high tide she floats but, as you can see, it wasn't high tide!
 Then, in the harbour we spotted a full-size replica of the Golden Hind, the ship in which Francis Drake circumnavigated the globe back in the 16th Century (I know, I’ve already seen one reproduction of it at Southwark, in London – there are obviously a lot of them around!). Apparently, this particular vessel is here because in 1963 a TV series about Drake was filmed in and around Brixham, and this is a replica of the replica used in filming, because the first one was destroyed in a storm… confusing, or what?
Trying to be arty and get a close-up of the masts and all
that rigging. 
The original Golden Hind (Drake’s flagship – there were four other ships in his fleet) was launched as the Pelican, but was renamed to honour the wealthy patron who provided most of the funds for the expedition. Officially the brief, as explained by Queen Elizabeth, was to explore new lands and ‘find out places meet to have traffic’, which I gather means discovering new opportunities for trade. But unofficially the Queen had let it be known that she wanted revenge on the King of Spain for ‘divers injuries that we have received’.

A Brixham seagull. There are gulls everywhere!
So Drake and his crew had carte blanche to harry the Spanish, and that’s exactly what they did. They set sail in 1577, and the Golden Hind made it back three years later, laden with riches looted from Spanish treasure ships. The Queen was delighted – and no wonder, because she got half the proceeds. Drake made his fortune, was knighted, and became a national hero.

A fire juggling pirate.
Brixham seems to have a long history of piracy, smuggling and the like. When we visited there was some kind of pirate event going on, with children (and adults) dressed as buccaneers, and there were market stalls, street theatre performers, and all kinds of activities going on.  It gave a real carnival atmosphere to the day, but we never did discover what was happening – there is a proper Pirate Festival every May, so it can’t have been that!

A wall of crab pots..
Fishing has always been important for the town. From the Middle Ages right through to the 19th century it was the biggest fishing port in the West Country, and it’s still a thriving, working fishing port today. The quays around the harbour are piled high with nets, ropes, pots, baskets and all kinds of paraphernalia to do with fishing, and it all looks just as you imagine it should.

... And a close-up. I was trying to be artistic - again!
 Brixham, apparently, was famous for its fast-moving, powerful sailing boats, which were able to trawl for fish in the deep sea, in all weathers. Several of them, with their distinctive red sails (dyed with local ochre, which helped protect the canvas against sea and weather damage), have now been restored, and provide cruising holidays and training expeditions. We had hoped to see some of these Heritage ships in the harbour, so we could get a good look, but they were all out, and we were a bit disappointed - until we spotted this glorious craft sailing past in the distance, and felt as if we'd been transported back 150 years or so. We were really thrilled to see this - much better than looking at one in the harbour!

Red sails in the sunshine!
Doubtlessly, WW2 buffs will know that the Americans trained in Brixham  prior to the D-Day landings, as part of Operation Overlord, and the 'slipway and hard' that they used is now officially ‘listed’, and there is  a blue plaque explaining how troops and tanks left from here bound for Utah Beach, and convoys followed loaded with supplies and equipment. 
A D Day landing - A reminder of World War II.
There's a big, modern marina as well, and all alongside the quay, nestling up against the cliff sides, are little gardens, created by local volunteers as part of a Pride in Brixham project, and there were people fishing for crabs with string and bits of bacon, and I do wish we'd had a go at that - next time, perhaps!
Garden by the sea... One of the gardens created for the Pride in Brixham project.
The town itself was lovely, with some nice little independent shops - and a statue commemorating William of Orange who landed at Brixham in November 1688 with his Dutch army during the ‘Glorious Revolution; when the Catholic King  James 11 was forced to abdicate in favour of his Protestant daughter Mary and her husband William..
Crowned with a seagull! I accidently deleted my photo of the e statue of
William of Orange in Brixham, so I've borrowe this one, from the site.
You’ll find more photographs, and details of how to participate in Saturday Snapshot at Melinda’s site, at West Metro Mummy Reads.