Saturday 26 November 2011

In Bruge

A few pics from my visit to the beautiful city of Bruge, Belgium, with work mates: Ray, Michael, Cheryl, Laura, Debbie and Lisa.

Swan Lake

Not all special offers are as good as they may initially seem!

They must have known I was coming

Lisa, Cheryl and Laura

Debbie, Lisa, Laura and Cheryl

Monday 21 November 2011


I might be able to build a replica of the solar system but I still can't work out how to use bloody HTML, as my previous blog entry clearly demonstrates!

The wonders of the solar system

So what did you do on the weekend? After twitching the Sharp Tailed Sandpiper on Saturday, Sunday was a a family day. Jamie had been asking me for a few days to help him with a science project that had to be in, today, Monday.

The task was to build a replica (not to scale!) of the solar system. Easy, I thought, no problem. Off to the Hobby Craft we went to buy various sized polystyrene balls to use as planets. I already have loads of coloured paints for MY art project, but that's a story for another time.

We spent the first couple of hours painting the planets and letting them dry, cunningly fashioning Saturn's rings from a circular cheese spread box. At this point we still had no idea how to display them, as they had to be in the right order from the sun. Plan A was to slot them onto a number of rods pushed though the sun, but a trip to B&Q and Homebase failed to produce anything anywhere near what we needed. We needed a plan B. After much head scratching we came up with plan C; use the cardboard tray that our newly bought fridge had been sitting in; at approximately 1m square, we could paint it black as a back drop. I was worried that the paint wouldn't dry in time to start putting it together, so with a slight alteration to plan C(a), we taped black bin liners to the inside of the cardboard tray.

Next we had to work out a way to display the planets. Thinking back to my Blue Peter watching days, it soon came to me. Egg cartons! Off we went to buy a dozen eggs, and were soon back cutting up the box to leave 10 cup shaped holders to place the planets in. First of all, we had to paint them black and let them dry, an hour later we were ready to start assembling the piece. Each painted holder was glued into the appropriate position, and allowed to dry.

While allowing for the glue to dry, here's a quick test for you. Now come on, no cheating. Name the planets in the correct order, nearest the sun first.

Got it? Sun, Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and for this project's purposes Pluto, that is no longer, as you no doubt know, officially a planet.

With the glue dried, the planets were placed in position. All that was left to do was to compile a table of extra information for each planet; distance from the sun, orbit time, revolve time, surface temperatures etc, all researched, typed out and stuck down. And that was that. Well sort of. The model was so big that there was no way Jamie could get that to school on a bus. So my final act of helping out was to drive him to school this morning. All I can say is I hope I, sorry Jamie, gets a deserved A+. It only took a mere 7.5 hours, but it was worth it!

Voila! Who needs Doctor Brian Cox!

Saturday 19 November 2011

Sharp Tailed Sand Bagged!

Wow what a morning! With me and Bradders Jnr still needing Sharp Tailed Sandpiper we couldn't resist the lure of the 1st juv of this species since 1975. With Bradders needing to be back by 2pm we set off early to get to Blagdon Reservoir, Somerset, for 1st light. We were joined by big listers John Archer and Rich Bonser, who had between them seen more Sharp Taileds than I had ha hot dinners, but they had not seen a juv in this country.

We arrived at Blagdon at around 7.45am ( journey approx 2.5 hours) to be told there was no sign. Bugger. There were around 30 - 40 birders on site already, so we had a quick look around from the car park, bagging Red Crested Pochard, Long Tailed Duck and Goosander, before deciding to head to the other end of the reservoir to refind our sandpiper! Unfortunately, that didn't happen, but Bradders quickly found the Ring Necked Duck and John a Ring Billed Gull, and there were 8 Bewick Swans too! All amounting to a strong supporting cast, but where was the headline act!

It was now 9am, we had about an hour before we had to start thinking about heading home. Bradders and I headed back to the car, as John and Rich headed off in the opposite direction to try and get better views of the Ring Billed Gull. 10 minutes later we were in the car when the pager bleeped: SHARP TAILED SANDPIPER - CHEW VALLEY RESERVOIR!!

The tyres screeched as we zoomed up the winding lane trying to find the others. 2 minutes later we were all in the car, doing a u-turn and heading the short distance (2-3 miles max) to Chew Valley.

We pulled up to find out it had just a few moments earlier flown out of sight. A adult Spotted Sandpiper had also been there until a few minutes earlier but had also just flown. Nooooo. More and more people began to arrive to swell the numbers to over 100. Another 30 minutes passed and still it had not been relocated. Then, "There it is!" said someone, direction were shouted 1 or 2 people got onto it. I managed a fleeting glimpse though someone else's scope before it walked out of sight again. Aaargh. And Bradders and John had not seen it yet! A few minutes later a small flock of Dunlin wheeled into sight and plonked themselves down out in the open, and there it was, in amongst them, providing much better, and longer views. Phew.

Monday 7 November 2011

Short Eared Owl - Rainham

A late afternoon trip to Ferry Lane, Rainham, eventually produced a smart Short Eared Owl, hunting at twilight over the silt lagoons. Hopefully I'll enjoy many more of these lovely birds over the coming winter months. Unfortunately it was far too dark for pics by the time it was seen.

It was also really good to meet fellow birder, Marco, for the first time and discover after a brief chat, a family connection. Well, sort of.