With only four days to go before August, Manor farm still remains untouched. This leaves five months to complete any restoration work before the latest deadline (I saw) expires.
Chandlers farm (or at least the western half) was extremely quiet during my hot, somewhat soggy Wednesday morning stomp. At a sultry 24 C, with humidity somewhere in the stratosphere due to the preceding day's thunderstorms), this was nothing to the 35 C we experienced on Thursday. There was activity on Chandlers farm, I could hear it as I walked toward it from the MGLG car park, it just seemed confined to its eastern half. The bit I can't see from the footpath.
Even the wildlife was easing off. Tern island (MGL) was eerily quiet. Only one or two gull types things to be seen.
Cormorant lake was edging up to its normal levels - what with all the rain and the pump still being off. All the gravel bars leading off the scrape were flooded. While the circular pipe, so beloved by the gulls and terns to sit on, could start floating soon.
Nothing to do with the restoration process, but I was most chuffed to see this bird in our garden. I knew it was unusual for our garden, not the usual Blue, Great or Coal Tits, or Dunnocks that infest our bird feeder. I reeled off a few shots before identifying said bird in my RSPB pocket guide to British Birds.
Apparently, it is a Blackcap. Its crest was up, no doubt annoyed by the sight of our cats. The crest went down when the cats disappeared. It flitted around for a while, catching insects on the wing, before some pedestrians spooked it, and it flew away. Haven't seen it since.
Apparently, the females have a red cap. Far more exciting.
No prizes for guessing that Inert are firmly entrenched in Chandlers farm. This does give me an opportunity to give you a long distance heads up on an open day on Moor Green Lakes. It is part of a wider event BVCT Blackwater river festival, running from 21st to 29th September. Partly to celebrate 40 years of BVCT. Keep a watch out for details as they are firmed up.
One event that is taking place is an open day on Moor Green Lakes on 29th September (Sun) from 10am to 4pm. Park in MGLG car park, and wander down the path to Birdfeeder Paddock. The open day is still being planned, but what is certain is that you can meet and talk to the various MGLG volunteers and recorders, plus be taken on tours of the reserve, which is not normally open to the public.
Whilst some birds have finished breeding, and some have started their migration, others are still raising broods or attempting second clutches. Cemex have, sensibly, continued the restoration of Chandlers farm. In turn this means I photograph the goings on from the safety of the Bailey bridge, as I do not visit the site on Saturdays.
The 'embankment' shown last week has been extended greatly, and a truly large edifice it is too. This is not unusual. One modus operandi for restoration appears to be: bulldoze an area flat, build up piles of spoil, bulldoze area flat, and repeat. Other times, spoil will be dropped and then bulldozed straight away.
Quite evident, chugging away, was the boulder sorter outer on the mighty spoil hill nearest the Bailey bridge. This week I witnessed tipper trucks reversing up a slope to drop their loads 15 or 20 feet (say 5 to 6 metres) above ground level. The track they trundle up is, from what I've seen Manor farm, not much wider than the lorry.
There was a digger, perched high on the heap, gathering soil, from where it was dumped, and placing it higher up. But what astonished me was seeing the bulldozer trundling back and forth on the spoil heap a the same level as where the soil was dumped. Misjudge the reversing, and there will be a catastrophic, if not fatal, fall. I take my hats off to the skill of the drivers and operators working at restoring this site.
Elsewhere: our pump remains steadfastly quiet, resulting in dramatic rises in water levels in the lakes and ponds as they steadily head back to normal. In contrast, water levels in Moor Green lakes had dropped. The gate to Manor farm also remains open - which it tends to be. Either someone forgot to shut it or it remains open by design. Who knows.
Tern island on Colebrook lake was surprisingly quiet and there were few gulls or terns about. Perhaps some have already slung theirs hooks and flown off with this year's brood or maybe go off foraging, teaching the chicks where to find grub.
What birds there were tended to be the usual. I wont, therefore, bore you with them. My focus has, recently, turned to insects. They are critically endangered and it is places like MGL, Manor farm and Fleet Hill farm that provide sanctuaries for them.
This week I decided to see how far I could push my cheap, mid-range smart phone. I tried photographing insects in flight. It has to be said that the insects I chose were fairly docile hoverflies, but they were moving and it is difficult for DSLRs or bridge cameras to focus on them as there tends to be so much background clutter.
I was quite astonished at the results, bearing in mind that my smart phone (with its 12mp camera) is one of the cheapest, mid-range models. I am not encouraged to try and photograph some less cooperative insects in flight e.g. Demoiselles and Dragonflies.
Note, there are three photos taken with a DSLR(2) and bridge camera(1).
I haven't visited Fleet Hill farm in months. Not entirely sure why. Concentrating too hard on Manor farm.
Although Fleet Hill farm is a lovely reserve, I do find it somewhat flat and featureless. Manor farm is in danger of following suit when the north embankments are bulldozed flat, but there will be a remnant of higher ground to overlook the reserve. This does give such a refreshing perspective.
I took a peek into a random selection of the tubes containing the saplings that were planted last year. A large number had perished in the extreme heat we had. Many were replaced earlier on this year or was it late last year. I am glad to say that many of the tubes I looked into contained a small if very much live sapling, whilst some were shooting up well above the anti deer tubes, looking like small trees.
Cemex had a whole load of reeds planted in various lakes and ponds throughout the reserve. I'm not sure why, as I notice most of the lakes have considerable growths of bull rushes. Perhaps the reeds were of a different variety. I didn't take a peek into the enclosures to see how they are doing - though they were taking last time I saw them. The problem with all these rushes, which I surmised and birders have mentioned, is that you can't see anything. This is exacerbated by Fleet Hill farm being so flat.
I might be mistaken, but I did notice that whoever rents some of the fields on this reserve for grazing has removed an electric fence they had erected across the bridle path Inert created a couple of years back on the south east side of the reserve. I don't remember it being removed the last time I visited this area. It was an anomaly which a number of people mentioned.
Unfortunately, some of the closed off fields, and access to them, hug the Blackwater. Future plans call for a bridle path to run along the Blackwater, before turning north near Fleet Hill farm proper to join up with an existing footpath (and new bridle path) running along the north edge of the reserve. I assume that this will be built when Manor farm and Chandlers farm are fully restored, and are in a position to be handed over to whomever will maintain the resulting reserve.
My main reason for visiting Fleet Hill farm was to photograph dragonflies. I remember from last year that the area was buzzing with them. I wasn't to be disappointed. The main dragonflies visible were Black-tailed skimmers. Which is a rather odd name, seeing as the males are virtually all blue, whilst the females are yellow and black. There were other dragonflies and plethora of damselflies and demoiselles which, sadly, I could not identify. Distinguishing between the various demoiselles is tricky.
I did spot a Green Sandpiper, which a birder had informed me she had seen some weeks ago. I never knew such a bird existed let alone what it looked like. There were a flock of five Little white egrets, and the Grey Herons were lurking over here as well. Far too distant for me to get a decent shot of was a Stone Catcher.
On with the slide show, starting with scenic shots of Fleet Hill farm. You'll notice it all tends to look alike. What I have done, which sort of half works, is to give each photo a number and then a place on a map with arrow pointing in the direction of shot. In hindsight I should not have put a 'P' in front of each number. The map got a bit cluttered due to me taking multiple shots from one location. First the map, then the slide show.
I may well visit the reserve again in the near future, to photograph some of the lakes I missed this time round. I did spend two hours or so wandering around the place. Now on to some wildlife, starting with a Green Sandpiper, which landed not more than 20 feet in front of me on the north bank of the Blackwater. It spotted me when I took a photo of it, gave an almighty squawk before flying off to the other side of an adjoining lake.
The Black-tailed Skimmers were all over Fleet Hill farm, not just around the ponds. Another good place to spot them is Manor farm. They seem to like the north and east embankments a lot. I guess because they were quite clear of vegetation for the longest time. You'll notice that the skimmers do like the gravel bridle path.
They did sport various forms of damage to their wings. This didn't seem to affect their flying abilities. There are a couple of Hobbies around the reserves. They specialise in catching dragonflies.
Finally, some odds and sods. Insect life was quite bountiful on Fleet Hill farm. Quite a few landed on me, and a couple (the Horseflies) tried to take a chunk or two out of me. It is quite alarming that the only place you encounter large numbers of insects is on a reserve. More alarming is that the species that were very common in my youth (e.g. Small Tortoise shell) are quite rare even on the reserves.
There were loads of Gatekeeper butterflies, other small brown ones I could not identify, and a huge number of crickets and grasshoppers.
Inert appear to have made a small foray on to Manor farm sometime over the past week. The gate to Manor farm near the Bailey bridge was wide open, and there were a few vehicle tracks. Nothing major, hints of one or two vehicles doing one or two small trips. There were signs that stuff was added to the barrier across the Longwater road entrance. Otherwise, I couldn't see anything obvious from where I was on the footpath.
Our pump was quite silent, resulting in raised water levels in Cormorant lake.
Chandlers farm get even more lumpy as yet more stuff is trucked in. There are quite a few large heaps dotted about the place, with the old boulder sorter outers chugging away on occasion.
On the wildlife front. This year's brood are very much in evidence, especially the various geese. They seem to have had a very successful year. Egyptian geese are beginning to congregate. Swallows and swifts were more in evidence now that the weather has turned favourable. With luck they will manage one if not two broods during July and August.
We begin our slide show with a gallery of two; seeing as Inert have not yet returned to Manor farm.
Now the wildlife slide show. My usual early Wednesday morning stomp first brings me to a five bar gate, near the MGLG car park, which is the north west entrance to Colebrook lake. I always pause at the gate, hoping to get some decent wildlife shots. Normally quite speculative, as the birds tend to be a long way from the gate.
I pointed my lens at some interesting floaty birds who were almost across the lake, getting near to Plover island. They turned out to be Great Crested Grebe, and they seemed to be doing a courtship ritual. I stayed focused on them. This was a fortunate decision. I noticed they had dived under the water and came up with vegetation in their beaks. I had a strong hint that something spectacular was going to happen. It did, and I photographed them doing this; the first time I have ever witnessed this.
The whole display is over and done with in about 20 to 30 seconds. Hardly surprising considering the effort it takes to tread water like that. Most of the images are heavily cropped, as the birds were about 100m away. They came out quite well considering my lens is at its worst at 600mm. I feel very, very, very lucky to not only have witnessed this display but to have also managed to photograph it; especially as I normally storm around the reserve at speed roughly once a week.
Moving on to more mundane photos. There were a lot of crickets and grasshoppers around. You could hear them, but not really see them. I didn't have time to hunt them out to photograph them. Similarly, dragonfly are in abundance, but difficult to photograph as they move so fast. Butterflies were also more in evidence.
Needless to say, with a post title like that it is still quiet on Manor farm. Even our periodic pump paused puffing - though water levels were lower than of late.
Chandlers farm getting lumpy again is in keeping with how this restoration lark appears to go. Loads of spoil are dumped in heaps, dotted about a site. They are then bulldozed into lakes and ponds, to make something reasonably flat. Then, either more spoil is dumped into dirty great big heaps or huge areas of flat infill are gouged out and pushed into a lake or pond.
No one appears to know what is going on or when the restoration is to be completed. Even less is know about après completion.
We'll kick off our small slide show with some panoramic views of Chandlers farm from the south end of the bailey bridge.
Now onto wild life shots. There was a lot of it about, as they say, particularly on Cormorant lake. Favourite areas being the scrap, attached gravel bars, plus the mud flats and land mass (aka previous infill) on the north shores of Cormorant lake south. I'm not sure about Cormorant lake north, as I have been keeping off Manor farm due to the breeding season.
In addition to the birds, there were a plethora of insects, particularly dragonflies and various damselflies. Butterflies were strangely light in the air (as it were), unlike previous weeks when I spied numerous Red Admiral.
Given the large number of nettles with Peacock butterfly caterpillars on them, I hope so see quite a few of these colourful insects in a month's time. Not many photos this week, even though there was plenty to see.
A highlight for me was photographing a barn owl peeking out of its nest box on the north shore of Colebrook lake. I normally point my camera at the box in the hope of spotting something, which I did last week but it was too grainy and indistinct to call an owl. This week, however, the owl did not disappoint.
Bear in mind the nest box was well over 100m away.
A polite notice first: All photographs on this blog are owned by me and subject to copyright.