It's been rather chilling, this past week. Sudden Stratospheric Warming has struck again, but not as quickly as last March. Just the usual stuff for this time of year.
Our wayward pump was chugging away on Wednesday, when I stomped around Moor Green Lakes and Manor Farm. On Saturday morning, it was quite silent. Knackered or run out of diesel. Who knows. Lakes levels are beginning to creep up.
Chandlers farm was a hive of activity. It seems never ending on this part of the nascent reserve and sports ground. At least two diggers and one bulldozer were doing their stuff; which largely appears to be building up huge piles of spoil, digging them out, only to build them up again.
On to Manor farm. Work has resumed on the infill of Cormorant lake (south) and thence, presumably, landscaping it with Manor lake (south). A fair amount of infill has taken place over this past week, and I noticed quite a few tipper lorries and grab loaders bringing inert waste to keep our bulldozer driver busy.
Curiously, the infill curves nicely around the feature I have been calling: Cormorant island, Cormorant spit and, latterly, the scrape. When I first visited Manor farm, Cormorants appeared to be the only birds which inhabited a piece of land that was exposed in middle of a large lake sandwiched between Finch pond and Manor lake (south). I christened them Cormorant island and Cormorant lake respectively. I then discovered that Cormorant lake had a little 'lake' to the north of it; hence north and south.
When water levels dropped, Cormorant island grew a long tail which reached the south shore of Cormorant lake. Thus it became a spit, though technically it is either a causeway or sandbar. Early last year, Inert dump a whole load of gravel onto Cormorant island, forming what I thought would be a scrape. Time will tell what this whole area will look like, but a scrape is damn useful to have in any water feature created here.
Well, judging by the length of time it took to infill Finch pond, I don't think Inert will make sufficient progress with Cormorant lake before having to call a halt to works due to the breeding season. I could be proved wrong, as they have done a cracking amount this past week.
Thing is, I am not too sure I know where the protected birds were breeding last year. The scrape is a possibility, though my suspicion is the gravel spit separating Cormorant lakes north and south. There are Snipe and others on the mudflats i.e. the bit between Manor lake and Cormorant lake. I do not think those are protected.
Only time will tell, as they say.
I was quite annoyed, this morning. Light conditions were pretty bad, and a Kestrel hovered very close to me. I also got some fantastic shots of Canada geese flying towards me. I had clambered up the huge spoil heap, near the yellow bridge, but taking the more gentle sloping east face. A small flock of Canada geese came flying down the south shore of Cormorant lake, at approximately the same height as the spoil heap. Only the light wasn't fantastic. Sigh.
The orange area, in the map below, is my attempt at mapping the infill so far on Cormorant lake. The purple hatched area is Finch pond infill.
Male Scaup. Until last week, I was blissfully unaware of the existence of this species of bird. I got talking to a couple of birders who had journeyed to Manor farm to see this bird.
My first problem in identifying this bird was its spelling. You see, its pronunciation sounds like Scorp. Looking at its entry in my trusty RSPB guide, I discover it is closely related to Tufted ducks. I have photographed many, many, many Tufted ducks as they swam in large armadas around Finch pond and Cormorant lake.
What, I thought, if there were Scaups lurking in the armadas. A quick flick through last weeks' photo, taken in very bad light, revealed this. Unfortunately it was far across Cormorant lake, and I have had to employ some major cropping to reveal the blighter.
There I was, thinking this rare visitor was nowt but a Tufted duck. I'll take a closer look through some of my other photos to see if I have a better shot.
I always find it ironic that in my ignorance I have seen and photographed all sorts of 'rare' birds that some people travel large distances to catch a glimpse of.
Now, some other wildlife photos. If only the light had been better. The cropped Kestrel photos have been lightened. I have a whole load of Kestrel photos from this morning, let down by bad light. Sigh.
Light conditions were too bad for decent photos of other birds e.g. Teal, Egyptian geese, etc lurking on the far side of the scrape in Cormorant lake (south).
What a busy week has transpired. My mid-week foray, in somewhat gloomy but mildish conditions, had a man continuing to weld the Bailey bridge. The pristine condition of the bridge (aka not muddy) suggested no lorry or bulldozer traffic had crossed it since last week. This translates into no further progress on Manor farm...well, not quite. More later.
Our stalwart pump was not. It was quite silent. Obviously the leaky pipe or obstruction in said pipe has not been rectified. Water levels were still surprisingly low.
I noticed a white van on Fleet Hill farm near the southern Longwater road entrance. Along this part of Fleet Hill farm, many of the green tubes protecting saplings from being eaten were lying on their sides. These, I surmised, contained dead saplings, those succumbing to the long hot summer of 2018.
It was interesting to see the distribution of the dead saplings. I wonder to what extent deaths were attributable by species, strength of sapling when planted, availability of water or all of above. In any case, when I returned on Friday (taking advantage of some rare sunshine to further try out my new lens) I noticed many of the tubes were now upright. No doubt containing a nice, shiny new sapling. A white van was still on Fleet Hill farm, and I suspect will be there next week to continue replacing dead saplings with live ones. I'm not sure how they tell which species had died. Most, when I peered down the green tubes, resembled twigs - albeit dead.
My Friday, sunny visit, revealed a very muddy works (aka Bailey) bridge with a reasonable fleet of tipper trucks, busily at work transporting inert material from Chandlers farm to Manor farm. the bridge had been full welded and pronounced safe.
One of the bulldozers was busily at work on the south shore of Finch pond, building up soil levels once again.
There was some encroachment of bulldozing closer towards the south footpath, on an area that had already been filled in. There was evidence of work on the north shore of Finch pond with (guess what) the soil being gouged out and pushed southward; leaving a gentle long slope.
I reckon this will continue next week, with the land levels being raised further. At some point the infill must stop, if only to leave some semblance of a pond.
There was a great deal of activity on Chandlers farm. One, particularly large, hill of spoil was being dug out and loaded on to lorries - I think for transferring to Manor farm, but I am not sure. Diggers, lorries and bulldozers were trundling all over Chandlers farm.
I'm still concerned work has stopped on Cormorant lake. The breeding season is fast approaching, and calls will be made to halt any restoration activity - unless, that is, the birds will be able to breed on the new, pristine but tiny Finch pond.
I've had to post process the photos as the weather on most of the days was cloudy and manky. Also I have been using bridge cameras for wide angle shots. My Sigma, with its lowest 150mm is not brillient for landscape photos. I started off using an old Canon bridge camera, but it has been through the wars and now takes slightly out of focus photos. On Saturday, I switched to an old Lumix. It has the advantage of having a view finder. I can't stand using an LCD screen on the back of cameras. Too much reflection and difficult to compose the shot.
No site visit this Saturday morning, for reasons you'll see, but two site visits this past week.
I do find the strategy of restoring Finch pond a little odd. The breeding season will kick off with a vengeance in approximately two months time - say three at the utmost. Cemex/Inert will then be put under immense pressure to cease all work around what I have been calling Cormorant lake.
Unless the resulting two to three month hiatus has been built into the restoration plan, I would have thought it makes sense to crack on with infilling Cormorant lake (north) as a priority, with infill/landscaping Cormorant lake (south) and Manor lake close second before the birds start breeding. Unless, of course, the plans for this part of the nascent reserve have changed, and there is a whole lot less infilling and landscaping.
Now back to our normal schedule. My site visit, last Sunday, to test my new Sigma lens, revealed the bulldozer parked by the Yellow bridge, primed ready to continue restoring Manor farm. My Wednesday morning visit revealed an empty, quiet site, devoid of bulldozer, lorries or signs of much being done on Monday or Tuesday.
A lot may have been done, but as I have commented before, one patch of muddy soil tends to look the same from week to week unless something dramatic has changed.
As I approached the works (aka Bailey) bridge, I spied some poor sod (complete with large bowser) power washing it - the air temperature was about four degrees centigrade, and it felt bitterly cold in the north easterly wind. He stopped for a brief rest, and I commented that he had a soulless job as the bridge would get muddy the instant lorries began rolling.
He then explained the reason: welding had to be checked, particularly the bridge deck plates. The bridge had been taking a bit of a pasting over the years; especially of late with the numerous lorries crossing it, heavily laden with soil and spoil.
My site visit on Friday (to take advantage of the, rare, sunny day to try out my new lens) revealed a welder hard at work on the bridge. Naturally, whilst this was going on there was no traffic allowed on the bridge, and no work took place on Manor farm - certainly since Wednesday if not Tuesday.
Chandlers farm, however, was a hive of activity.
My Friday visit also revealed a problem with the pump. I heard a strange gurgling noise whilst I was stood next to the works bridge. It came and went, quite regularly in approximately 30 second intervals. At first I thought it was some strange animal ritual.
I tracked rapidly the strange noise down to the pump. It was behaving like Old Faithful. Firstly it appeared to pump water normally, indeed there was a healthy flow of water on the outflows into the Blackwater. Then a fine spray would emerge from the inlet pipe. This fine spray rapidly turned into a coarse spray, before erupting into a fine jet of water, much like a geyser. The whole process was then repeated.
As I was walking east, back towards the MGLG car park, I noticed a man wander down to the pump, time his walk to the rear of the pump mechanism to avoid the spray, before turning off the pump. I cannot fathom what is wrong with the pump (possibly a blockage) to explain its odd behaviour.
Shame really, as water levels in Cormorant lake (south) had fallen dramatically over the past week. If the pump is out of action for weeks, it could further delay restoration.
Otherwise, restoration efforts appear concentrated on the south/south west shore of Finch pond. land levels appear, once again, to be being built up. I wonder if this will follow the normal pattern, and the whole lot will be scoured out again.
I 'might' possibly take a wander over Manor farm on Sunday (tomorrow) prior to attending the Moor Green Lakes work party, where we shall be hedge laying on the footpath between the car park and the Blackwater.
No Saturday visit this week, but two mid week visits as compensation. The memsahib and I had a very busy period over new year, shuttling visiting friends around London, and a bit of mass catering by yours truly. Add a soupçon of cold; lack of sleep; manky, cloudy overcast and freezing cold morning, meant I elected to stay in bed this morning in an attempt to recover.
I must admit that the main reason for my site visits, this week, was to get to grips with my new lens. A Sigma 150-600mm Contemporary canon fit. I've been watching this lens drop in price over a couple of years, and finally took the plunge to buy one just after Christmas. Sigma were offering £100 off. I could get a brand new lens at a price my bank balance could just manage, but was now cheaper or the same price as a used lens!!!
A truly mighty beast it is when compared to my Tamron 16-300mm jobbie. The lens has a diameter of 95mm; some 30mm greater than the Tamron. This lets in a much greater amount of light. I believe the glass itself is of a higher quality, which translates to better imagery. Of course, the main reason for getting this lens is the doubling of telephoto I have available: 600mm vs 300mm.
There are a couple of downsides. Wide angle is now a minimum of 150mm. That is not enough for landscape shots of Manor farm. The Tamron's 16mm wide angle offered fantastic landscape shots.
I will now have to carry two cameras with me - which was a strategy I had decided on some time ago when I considered the Sigma. Thus, I shall use my ancient Canon SX700 HS bridge camera for landscape shots, as it is small and light.
The Sigma is also over 1kg heavier than the Tamron. It is quite noticeable. I believe the all up weight of camera and lens is now well over 3kg. Good thing I eschewed the Sigma Sport model. This waterproofed beastie with a 105mm lens is roughly 1kg heavier than the Sigma Contemporary.
Unlike the Tamron, it takes me two turns of the lens ring to get to full zoom. I've worked out a strategy of either extending the lens to, say, 400mm whilst framing my subject then zooming in to 600mm with one twist or to twist the camera with my right hand whilst twisting the lens ring with my left.
A final problem, which I will get used to: Tamron lenses following Nikon's direction turning the lens ring whilst Sigma follow Canon's opposite direction for turning lens rings. Great. I've spent a year being used to turning the Tamron.
Enough harping! The Sigma lens is SPECTACULAR even at 600mm! It's clarity is astonishing, with huge amounts of light being let it. Shots taken at 600mm are not soft; whereas with my Tamron shots taken at or near 300mm were very soft. Auto focus works well, plus it locks onto a target (subject) far better than the Tamron.
Anyway, enough of lenses, which I am sure is boring the living daylights out of people. What were Inert up to this week?
My Wednesday visit revealed very little. They were not operating on Manor farm. There was activity on Chandlers farm, but it looked light and subdued. I had got down quite late in the morning, roughly 11:00am so would have avoided any tea break. I guess there were still people off on holiday. I could have wandered around Manor farm on Wednesday. The gates were firmly shut to works traffic over the Bailey bridge, which meant Inert were staying firmly on Chandlers farm. However, I had to get home before 12:00, it was a cloudy day and there was little wildlife around.
Friday saw Inert back on Manor farm. Our hard working bulldozer driver was chunkering away on the former south and south west shores of Finch pond! Yep, Inert are flitting about again. I can sort of understand this. Water levels in Cormorant lake were very high due, in part, to the pump being off. Thus it will be quite dangerous for heavy plant to be operating next to deep (up to 10m) water.
There were a couple of tipper lorries delivering spoil to the bulldozer, but the whole effort looked a little subdued. I guess this will change next week when all and sundry are back at work.
With little obvious change, you can understand my reluctance to visit Manor farm on a cold, manky Saturday morning.
I've split the slide show into two: one for Wednesday and one for Friday. Most all of wildlife, they really represent me getting to grips with my new lens.
Kicking off with an overcast Wednesday. All shots are handheld i.e. I did not use a tripod or deploy my monopod.
Moving on to a freezing cold but sunny Friday. All shots are handheld i.e. I did not use a tripod or deploy my monopod.
Finally, a little extra. Cast your mind back a year, when I attempted to make a Black Forest Gateau. Whilst delicious, it did resemble a collapsed caldera or Quatermass experiment. I christened it Cratermass.
I discovered why the sponge collapsed: too much baking powder. This year I showed restrain, and the results (yes, I cooked two of them) did not collapse. My first, pictured below followed a recipe without butter. This resulted in an extremely light, airy sponge which was very delicate and tore when I spread jam or whipped cream over it.
The second followed a different recipe with butter. This resulted in a more robust sponge, which withstood a lot of abuse from me. However, I prefer the first sponge as is it is more like what a Black Forest Gateau should be.
Both were polished off.
Note, the funny shape of the cake was due to me not having two 8" round baking dishes. Instead, I baked the cakes in a large casserole dish. It worked perfectly. Always the one for lateral thinking, and pushing the boundary.
A polite notice first: All photographs on this blog are owned by me and subject to copyright.