Category Archives: Nature Reserves

Softly Softly Catchee Monkey

I’ll tell you now, we didn’t catch a Monkey but we tried. Today I took my lean, mean, walking machine to the woods.

FizzWe are not going to any old wood. The woods that we were in on our last walk were very nice. English woodland, mostly Oak with some Beech. Very nice but my eyes see managed for timber production. The trees are all the same age, they are closely spaced and there is no significant dead wood, still it’s a nice place to walk.

Today we are visiting a cathedral. You have to walk with reverence around this place. It is beautiful. (but there are no Monkeys)

RSPB NagsheadNagshead is a 1250 acre nature reserve in the Forest of Dean. It is a collaboration between the Forestry Commission and the RSPB. I don’t know exactly where the FC come into it, there is no evidence of their management but I think that they might own the land and have agreed not to mess it up. (Which is very nice of them and I am grateful). Anyway they are not messing it up.

More than half of the reserve is nineteenth century Oak woodland. There are two ponds with viewing hides and quite a large meadow. There are also good, sign posted, trails around the reserve, a long and a short one.

The reserve is managed by the RSPB for birds obviously but it is just as well known for it’s butterflies and dragonflies. Boar and Fallow Deer also wander about the reserve but we didn’t see any today.

The RSPB understand that birds eat insects and so to create a habitat for birds you have to start with a habitat for insects. There is a lot of dead wood here. Whole trees lie on the floor and there are also dead trees standing. There is a lot of life in dead wood and it is very important.

RSPB Nagshead

RSPB Nagshead

RSPB Nagshead

RSPB Nagshead

RSPB Nagshead

RSPB Nagshead

RSPB NagsheadWe have been here about six times this year and the one thing that I have never photographed here is birds. I did take a few pictures today but the light was too poor. Part of the reason though is that just across the road from this reserve is Cannop ponds and that is brilliant for birds and just as well managed but with more water.

RSPB NagsheadFizz wants to go to the ponds. They have a very nice picnic area and she wants to eat. I don’t really want to go there because we have been walking for three hours, it will take at least two more to get home and the ponds can easily add hours to your day.

Eventually I gave in but just to go to the picnic area, no looking at birds.

Coot

Coot

Coot

Coot

Coot

Coot

CootOne Coot. Coots are irresistible. It was in the way, I had to shoot it to get past and then Fizz got her sandwiches.

I will just show you quickly a few images of the ponds then we have to go.

Cannop Ponds

Cannop Ponds

Cannop Ponds

Cannop PondsAt the top of the ponds there is another nature reserve, that one is wetland and marsh, we just don’t have time today. I wasted the time creeping about in the forest looking for big game, that was what I really wanted but not today.

When I started walking Fizz at the beginning of the year she was absolute rubbish on these long walks.

She was about three years old and had a huge garden to play in but she didn’t get walked regularly and dogs need that. She didn’t have her own lead and she didn’t have any idea how to play ball, it took a while to teach her that.

When it came to walking home she was like a little child. She would throw herself on the floor and try and convince me that she couldn’t go on.

Dead DogI need a carry!

Dead DogYou could drag me.

Dead DogThat was six months ago. Today at the end of a six hour walk she was as full of life as when we started.

FizzIt is really nice to see the difference that six months of basic training has had on her. I, on the other hand, have not got any fitter and I still feel whacked at the end of a long hike.

FizzShe has started calling me “Limpy Old Man.” As in, “Come on, limpy old man.” It’s a term of endearment, I think 🙂

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The Crepuscular Hunter

Bluebells, Fallow Deer and Ancient Beech Woodland.

Crepuscular: Animals most active during twilight. (Dawn and dusk)

I wasn’t going to show you these pictures, just because they are not very good. Taken at 5:30 in the morning they are not good pictures of a Bluebell wood and they are not good pictures of a Fallow Deer.

These pictures are a small part of the reason that we get up before dawn and make our way into the forest but it is very hard to photograph because the light is so poor.

But I want you to know what it is like so…

The best thing to do when you look at these pictures is to close your eyes and let your imagination go to work.

Bluebell wood, Fallow Deer Bluebell wood, Fallow Deer Bluebell wood, Fallow DeerOpen your eyes for a minute, I just want to set the scene and give your imagination something to work with.

Fizz is on the lead, she is quite happy to be on a lead and she has to be because there are Wild Boar about. Fizz chases the sheep on the farm if she gets a chance, she doesn’t hurt them just chases them round but if she did the same with a sow boar with piglets she would get hurt. The Boar would not hesitate to protect her young.

We have been walking for an hour and about twenty minutes earlier I had been thinking that perhaps I was being over cautious and should let her have a run. Just then I saw an animal in the woods, I think it was probably a deer but all I saw was an animal on the edge of the wood jump back and disappear into the shadows.

Don’t get the wrong idea, I have no fear, this is a magical wonderland for me. I used to own woodland in East Sussex and there were boar on the land. I often slept in my wood. I spent ten years watching them and have had many encounters. I have never ever seen any aggression in the animals and my experience is that they have the disposition of deer and are very difficult to approach. We don’t get to see boar today just a deer.

Close them.

Bluebell wood, Fallow DeerBluebell wood, Fallow Deer Bluebell wood, Fallow DeerAnd open.

You need to be able to smell the forest. The air is very still and only slightly cool. We left home in shirt sleeves, it is going to be very warm in another six hours and you wouldn’t want to be carrying a coat.

Bluebells have a sweet scent and when you are surrounded by thousands of them, well… you can smell other plants in the forest as well as the trees and the soil but the Bluebells fill the air, the only thing that I can think of that I like better is Honeysuckle. This is the forest.

Then there are the birds, they are singing their little hearts out and every so often the song is punctuated by the hollow, echoing, rap of a Woodpecker.

There he is, a young male Fallow Deer browsing amongst the Bluebells, what a perfect thing to see.

(Male? I have seen his penis sheath, picture three. You can click on my pictures to enlarge them. With experience you will learn to look for these things)

He is stepping out onto the forest track.

Bluebell wood, Fallow Deer Bluebell wood, Fallow Deer Bluebell wood, Fallow DeerAnd that is our lot. He has seen us.

I like wild animals.

Bluebell wood, Fallow Deer Bluebell wood, Fallow Deer Bluebell wood, Fallow Deer Bluebell wood, Fallow DeerGoodbye beautiful animal and thanks. I hope that I remember this moment forever.

And that is why we get up so early in the morning. I wanted you to know, even if I can’t photograph it.

What a lucky animal and what a beautiful place to live.

Bluebell Beech woodCome on Fizz, we have got adventuring to do.

Making it look easy

Mute Swans

I suppose it is easy, floating about on the water.

This is one of our breeding pair and I think that it is the male. The only real difference between the sexes is that males have brighter orange bills with a bigger black knob on top of it. They are easier to sex when you just have a pair of them like this.

Mute Swan The female is on the nest.

Mute SwanIt could easily be the other way around though, they both take it in turns to incubate the eggs which is a good thing because it takes five to six weeks before they are ready to hatch and that is a lot of sitting on a nest.

Then we could have as many as six or seven Ugly Ducklings or cygnets as they are sometimes called. and when they are little they can sometimes be seen riding around on their mothers back. I can see a few good photo opportunities coming out of this.

For now we are just going to have to be patient.

Mute SwanThis is the first time that I have been able to photograph Swans on the nest. This is another family that we are going to see a lot on this blog.

Mute Swan

 

The Cure for Love

In the philosophy of Feng Shui the Mandarin Duck is one of those objects that is used and it is considered to be the “cure for love.” By that they mean that placing images or sculptures around your home will help you to find love. This is because the Mandarin is supposed to mate for life and partners are faithful to each other.

We arrived at the ponds quite early in the day and probably the first thing that happened was that we disturbed/woke up a group of Mandarins. Eleven males and no females huddled together on the bank.

Mandarin DucksOkay that is only six, here are the other five.

Mandarin DucksFinding all of these males huddled together made me start to wonder about the breeding habit of these birds. The females were obviously nesting.

Then we saw a female with two chicks and a male was with her. I couldn’t get a proper picture of this because she scarpered as soon as she saw me but I will post one so that you know I don’t lie.

Mandarin DucksDon’t worry, eleven males on the ground implies eleven females on the nest and a typical brood is eight to twelve eggs. Pretty soon there will be more ducklings than you can shake a stick at.

So now on with the photography and the understanding. I hadn’t planned to photograph the male at all but I ended up with some pictures that I hadn’t seen before and I am quite pleased to have got them.

Mandarin MaleThe males don’t play a part in incubating the eggs. They abandon their partner while she gets on with what, in the world of Mandarin Duck’s, is obviously considered to be “women’s work”.

They pair up again when the ducklings leave the nest and then take an active role  in feeding and protecting the ducklings for the next two months.

Mandarin Male Mandarin MaleI was intrigued by how the chicks get out of the nest. Mandarins nest in trees, with a preference for old Woodpecker holes close to water. These are often twenty to twenty five feet above ground. They must have to teach the chicks how to fly before they can leave the nest and they would not be born with flight feathers.

Silly man. They jump. The chicks are born with the ability to swim but they won’t learn to fly until their flight feathers are fully developed. So with the courage of a Red Beret they fall out of the nest and plummet to the ground. They can fall thirty feet quite safely and then they join their mum in the water and that is it for the tree.

Mandarin Male Mandarin Male Mandarin MaleThe other interesting thing that I found out about these birds was their diet. I always imagined that ducks ate some kind of aquatic weed and in fact they do but… Fruits of the forest, Beech Mast and Acorns are two of the favourite foods for the Mandarin. Obviously those are only available in season and in the spring Mandarins eat a lot of insects. Catching midges and even Dragonflies and that makes sense if you have ever looked at the surface of the water. It usually swarms with midges and small flying things. They also eat snails and beetles and catch fish. they are very versatile feeders.

Mandarin Male Mandarin Male Mandarin Male Mandarin Male Mandarin MaleSo that is about it for Mandarins today. I hope that you liked the pictures, some of them were better than others. Photgraphing it out of the water like this and also learning a bit about it has changed the way that I look at this bird and now I am seeing it as much more than just a “Floats on water” Duck. It nests up trees and feeds on acorns and is a proper woodland bird.

Plus it is beautiful.

Mandarin MaleComing soon….Families.

The Gift Bird

This was just something that we were not expecting, a Grey Wagtail.

We had been out for seven or eight hours and we were both feeling a bit tired, I decided that we should take a break. Fizz could have a little sleep and I would do some fishing.

I was trying to photograph the fish in the water but it didn’t work very well and then this little bird came and perched on a fallen tree beside us.

Grey Wagtail Grey Wagtail Grey Wagtail Grey WagtailFizz likes to sleep on my lap with her head and front legs resting on my camera arm and if I move that arm she has to wriggle about and jump up and down to get comfortable again. It is so endearing.

This is a male bird. The female looks just  the same except that she doesn’t have that black throat/bib.

Grey Wagtail Grey Wagtail Grey Wagtail Grey Wagtail

Not exactly ducklings

Well I had a good adventure, thank you. I am a bit tired after my ten hour hike (not as tired as Fizz) so I am just going to show you some of the best bits.

We wanted ducklings but this time we got goslings.

This is a perfect little Greylag Goose, it has even got it’s own reflection.

Greylag GoslingI am getting very fond of the Greylags and I am really pleased to be able to see and photograph the goslings.

GreylagGoslings

Greylag GeeseThis was a family group with both parents proudly showing off their chicks. Well not really showing them off, they were avoiding people but came over to me when a dog jumped in the water on the other side of the pond.

The goslings moved freely between the two adult birds, they weren’t just following mum.

Greylag Geese Greylag Geese

It was really nice to see them and I hope that I get the chance to watch them growing up.Greylag Geese Greylag Geese Greylag Geese

Making Plans

It looks like we are going on an adventure tomorrow. It needs careful planning and I have to make my sandwiches.

Adventures have to start before dawn and right now that means about four AM so planning things the day before is essential.. We are going to the ponds.

Mute SwanYou are probably thinking, “So what, what is there to see at the ponds?” Well, I don’t know, we make our adventures up as we go along and we don’t ever know what to expect.

It is not just the ponds it is getting there, an hour and a half walk through ancient woodland, which is why we have to start at dawn.

Then there is having our sandwiches, that is always good. I just hope she remembers to bring some this time.

Sandwiches.Sometimes there are birds.

Canada Goose Canada GooseIn fact Cannop is famous for it’s breeding Mute Swans. I haven’t really done the Swans justice. They are harder to photograph than you might think. They are very white and easily over exposed.

This one isn’t a breeder it is an offspring so less white and a pretty pink bill.

Mute Swan Mute Swan Mute Swan

Sometimes we just like to relax and drink in the scenery.

DrinkDrink in the scenery, geddit? I’m so funny.

DrinkI’ll bring water.

Cannop is also famous for it’s Mandarins and they are not hard to photograph.

Mandarin

Mandarin

Mandarin

MandarinTomorrow I will be trying hard to get closer to the female of the species.

MandarinThere is one other bird that I am keen to get closer to and that is this Tufted Duck.

Tufted Duck

Tufted DuckWe might see birds, even ducklings. There might be Bluebells on the way and if we are really lucky Fizz might get chased through the woods by a Wild Boar, except that she will be with me so that won’t happen.

She nearly got run over by a Fallow Deer on our last trip. We were walking down a track with woodland on either side and Fizz was about ten feet in front of me. I saw this deer racing through the wood straight at Fizz and just as it broke cover I called her, she turned her head and didn’t even see the deer cross her path. She turned back walked on a few steps and then suddenly picked up it’s scent and went racing off into the wood it had just come out of.

“You are going the wrong way, Nature Detective Dog!”

We will see what tomorrow brings.

Today I am going to have another crack at the Swallows and Martins and take Fizz on an insect hunt. (Shortish walk)

I am excited.

Mandarin