Wednesday, 28 October 2015

"Brute of a bird"

There has been a pair of Ravens visiting Rainham RSPB for some time now, reputed to fly in from Kent, where several pairs have been reported, with one pair breeding somewhere along the white cliffs of Dover.

From a distance I find it difficult to distinguish between Crow and Raven, this has led to me checking every encounter with these black corvids especially when flying in pairs, and especially when at Rainham.

Today as I casually ate my sandwiches in the shelter of the " Shooting Butts Hide" I could see a distant black corvid take to the air, joined shortly by a second bird.

They appeared quite large, could this finally be a sighting of the Ravens, I followed them closely with the binoculars they were heading my way straight towards the hide.

I could hear a short contact call from one of the birds, you could only describe it as a deep throaty "cronk" repeated as it flew towards me.

I could pick out a few features now, the massive size was unmistakeable, which makes me wonder why I have had so much trouble picking these out. the black feathers extending down the beak were clearly visible, and the wedge shaped tail clearly different from the Crows fan shaped tail.

I think I can claim these as a definite Raven sighting at last. Impressive brute of a bird.


Raven Silhouette showing tail shape 

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Winter Bee coming !!

The last few days have seen temperatures dropping, the weather forecasters have threatened that  severe weather is not far away, winter's coming.

This will probably be the last look at the Bee's for this year, the Ivy in the garden is now in full bloom, activity seems frantic around the flower heads.

Ivy Bees are the most numerous, as you would expect at this time of year, there emergence timed to perfection to match the flowering period of Ivy which they almost exclusively forage on, this is late September to mid November, a very short life span of about six weeks.

Surprisingly there are still a few Bumblebee's on the wing, hibernation for the new queens must
 surely be beckoning.There are a few Bumblebees still around, I think these are mainly Buff Tailed and White Tailed. It's quite difficult to tell as they seem to be covered in pollen from the Ivy flowers.

Bumblebee with Ivy Bee

There appears to be plenty of pollen to go around, in the short time I was watching, I managed to pick out Drone Fly, Common Wasp, Carder Bee, Honey Bee as well as the few Bumblebee's shown above.

Drone Fly
I thought the Bee below might be something interesting, appearing quite grey on the abdomen, but in retrospect I think it's probably a Carder Bee.

Carder Bee ?
Common Wasp
Ivy Bee
Ivy Bee & Honey Bee

I have really enjoyed seeing the different species of Bee around the garden this year. the Ivy has been a real Bee magnet to finish off the years sightings, considering the fact, that I used to trim the Ivy at the end of summer in past years, removing the flower heads because I thought they looked unruly.
 What a mistake that was, I now know better.

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

. . . . just passing through !

 The garden around the Pear tree is providing some good bird watching just lately , and dare I say better than my local patch at Ashenbank Woods at the moment.

Goldfinches are coming to the feeders in good numbers now, fourteen in this photograph, with more waiting at the top of my neighbours Silver Birch tree next door.

As I watched the antics of the Goldfinches, quite quarrelsome when large numbers are trying to get a meal.

I noticed a movement around the pond, and then a surprise, a Grey Wagtail moved out into the open, the second only I have ever seen in the garden, this one had unfortunately lost a foot, but this did not seem to hinder its search for food, tail flicking in true wagtail fashion.

Grey Wagtail
It returned for a second  day searching for food around the pond and patio, allowing me to take a quick photograph.

Its now moved on just passing through the gardens, lovely bird to see.

The second surprise was when I noticed  a large Raptor circling slowly above the garden, now I 'm not sure how far my air space extends above the garden, but I'm claiming that for my garden list.
It circled around for several minutes before drifting off towards the River Thames and Essex.

Common Buzzard

October is always an interesting time for bird sightings, summer birds leaving the country, and winter arrivals moving in.

Lots of birds just passing through, you never know what might turn up.

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Hydrogen !

The brick red sails of a Thames Sailing Barge have always captured my imagination of times gone by whenever I see them.

My Father-in-law Sid actually remembers seeing them at work on the River Thames,

So when my wife suggested a surprise trip for her father, sailing on the Thames Sailing Barge
 " Hydrogen" cruising upriver to the Tower of London and returning to Gravesend, it was an opportunity too good to miss.

And there was always the opportunity to see some wildlife from a different viewpoint.

We embarked on to the Thames Sailing Barge from the Town Pier in Gravesend town centre, my wife springing the surprise to her father at the last moment.

After a week of bad weather we were greeted with a relatively dry sunny day, the barge looked very authentic with its lines, rigging, and sailing paraphernalia in abundance.

How I would of loved to climb that rigging, probably not as easy as he made it look.
Here's a look at some of the Barges nautical equipment.

I think this may be called a 'Binnacle'   basically a compass

Authentic Ships wheel

Not sure exactly what this is called, but some sort of pulley system to raise the barges sails

Certainly some skilled craftsmanship in boat building used on these barges.

'Sid' making sure everything is 'Shipshape' I think that's the correct terminology

Knots and lines practice always useful.

The first real landmark seen as we moved upriver from Gravesend was the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge at the Dartford crossing, a truly graceful looking bridge, and reputed to be the busiest estuarine crossing in the country with up to 130,000 cars crossing each day.
When I first used this toll crossing the toll was a few shillings and your bike went free, transported through on a specially adapted bus, the toll now is several pounds, and the promise of a free crossing when the tunnels had paid for themselves long forgotten.

Queen Elizabeth II Bridge at Dartford Crossing
Dartford Creek Flood Barrier
A nostalgic view for me of a relatively uninteresting section of the river bank, this was the site of many happy childhood memories from my youth, the area was known as 'Long reach', the site of an old isolation hospital, kept as an emergency measure for Smallpox patients. if the need ever arose.

 There was at one time a gigantic concrete pill box structure where we would sit and watch the river traffic or play our war games, now long gone.

There now stands the Dartford Creek flood barrier built to protect Dartford from Tidal flooding.
You can just make out one of our few wildlife sightings there on the foreshore, a few Seals basking on the mud, too distant to identify which species. but they seem to favour this area at low tide.

Lots of these derelict cast iron piers along the river bank where past industries have faded away most taken over by roosting birds, some distant Cormorants can just be made out on the tops of the columns, and that about sums up the wildlife sightings.

So here's some scenic views of some of the London  landmarks we passed as we sailed up river towards Tower Bridge.

The Thames Barrier built back in 1982, still looks quite impressive as you sail through gate openings.

Thames Barrier

Rotating Gate on the Thames Barrier
On the North Bank of the River Thames, East London, a site I know well from my Fire Brigade days, Tate & Lyle Sugar refinery based at Silvertown. Although I never saw it from this angle

Passing through Woolwich towards Greenwich we passed the Woolwich Ferry, a free crossing for road traffic wishing to avoid the horrors of Blackwall tunnel, although very slow.
You can also see Canary Wharf in the background.

Woolwich Ferry
On the South side of the River we passed the site of the old Royal Navy College and the Cutty's Ark now fully restored to its former glory.

The site of the Old Royal Navy College
Cutty's Ark  Tea clipper
The glass dome structure in the foreground is one of the entrances to a foot tunnel which links Greenwich on the south bank to the Isle of Dogs on the North Bank.

Approaching the Millennium Dome, here is the 'Emirates air line' crossing from the millennium Dome across to the Excel centre and City Airport.

Emirates Air Line cable car.

Quantum Cloud
 This sculpture next to the Millennium Dome called 'Quantum Cloud' is supposed to be a contemporary art sculpture, if you look closely at certain angles you can make out the figure of a Millennium Man in the centre of the sculpture. It was designed by Antony Gormley.

Getting close now to familiar territory, Canary Wharf  is on my old Fire Stations Ground at Poplar,
the Blue Bridge you can see on the bank allows access into the centre of West India docks.

Lots of "James Bond Experience" speedboats zipping around us as we slowly proceeded up river past Canary Wharf.

So many interesting river craft all along the river, here are some that caught my eye. the Lady Daphne another old Thames River Barge.

Johan de Witt
HNLMS Johan De Witt an amphibious warfare ship of the Royal Netherlands Navy

I found some information about it on the internet with a library picture of the ship on manoeuvres. where it certainly looks a bit more meaningful than the clumsy look in my photograph.

Johan De witt courtesy of Wikipedia
[The ship is equipped with a large helicopter deck for helicopter operations and a dock for large landing craft. It can carry 6 NH 90 helicopters or 4 Chinook helicopters. It has a welldock for two landing craft utility and it carries 4 davit-launched LCVPs. The dock is wide enough to support two LCACs.

The vessel has an extra deck with rooms for command staffs to support a battalion size operation. The ship has a complete Class II hospital, including an operation theater and intensive care facilities. A surgical team can be stationed on board. The ship also has a desalination system enabling it to convert seawater into drinking water.]

LCVP ( Landing Craft Vehicles Personnel)
These Landing craft look very much like the ones in the library picture.

The "Dixie Queen" paddle steamer , now used as a party boat for corporate events.

Finally our destination appeared in the distance, the very iconic Tower Bridge.

A few london landmarks can be picked out in these photographs, the Shard with Guy's Hospital to the left of it, the glass domed building to the left of Tower Bridge is City Hall the haunt of Boris Johnston. just under the top span of Tower Bridge you can just make out the very old Post Office Tower, now called the BT Tower.
To the right of the Tower bridge you can see the dome of St Paul's Cathedral, and just to the right of St Paul's Dome is the monument to the Great Fire of London.

In this photograph you can see the "Walkie Talkie" , the "Cheesegrater" or the Leadenhall Building, and the Gherkin from left to right.

A Titanic moment as we turned around and headed for home.

Arriving back in Gravesend at the end of the day

And the end of  a very enjoyable day, and another tick on the
" To Do list "