Redshanks

I already posted these pictures individually on Twitter, so if you follow me there, you’ve already seen all but the first one of these.

Here are a few pictures of redshanks, a medium-sized shore wading bird, taken at the bay end of the Leighton Moss bird reserve.  The Moss has an inland section with freshwater wetlands and an estuary section where you find the sea birds; that’s where I found these. The first picture includes a couple of larger birds with shanks (legs) not red.  I’m reasonably sure they are godwits but let me know if you think they are not as there are a couple of similar wading birds that hang around the shores of north west England.

Redshanks and Godwits
Redshanks and Godwits

 

Redshank landing gear
Redshank landing gear
Redshank skimming the water
Redshank skimming the water
Redshank symmetry
Redshank symmetry

Leighton Moss

While on vacation in the UK, we joined the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.  Although we didn’t quite break even on a year’s membership, in terms of saving on admission to sites, we got all these goodies and the satisfaction of supporting a good cause.

RSPB gear
RSPB gear

The only thing I didn’t really like was the slogan “Giving Nature a Home”. As if somehow it’s OK to just carve off a few reserves for “nature” while we pave over the rest.  I don’t blame RSPB, I suppose it works to attract memberships and donations, but it’s sad if true.

The reserve we visited most was Leighton Moss, which is near Silverdale, a bit further round Morecambe Bay than Morecambe itself, where my dad lives, so I could just pop round for a few hours by myself. Other reserves should come in later posts.

As the web site says:

Leighton Moss is the largest reedbed in north-west England, and home to some really special birds such as breeding bitterns, bearded tits and marsh harriers

Here are a few of the birds I saw.  Unfortunately my binoculars are more powerful than my longest lens, so I got a better view than you will.  Still, good incentive to go yourself.

Here is a coot, with some of its friends.  I found out that these are members of the rail family, thanks to Twitter (@RallidaeRule).

Coot close-up
Coot close-up
Coots
Coots

Coots are the photographer-friendly members of the family.  The moorhens are more elusive.

Moorhen
Moorhen

The water rail, on the other hand, is extremely elusive.  I did see one, thanks to a more observant person who pointed it out, but selfishly I watched it through binoculars for the minute or so before it vanished into the reads, so no picture.

There are several egrets at the Moss (which is northern English for bog, aka wetlands).  I got closer up pictures in the estuary, coming in a later post, but here are some in flight and also perched in a tree (pretending to be blackbirds?).

I didn’t notice until I looked at the pictures today that there is also a large flock of waterfowl taking off at the same time; look at the line of reeds, just above the water.

Egrets in flight

Egrets in tree
Egrets in tree

Our local heron that feeds in my garden pond is blue.  Here are some grey ones.

Gray Heron
Gray Heron
Gray Heron 2
Gray Heron 2
Heron wings
Heron wings

Here is a landscape of a small part of the Moss, you can get a sense of how many birds there are from the little specks on the water.

Leighton Moss flocks
Leighton Moss flocks

Another landscape; there is something that calms the mind about the reflections in calm water. Peace and symmetry both help.

Leighton Moss reflection
Leighton Moss reflection

The next picture shows many kinds of birds living together. The larger white ones are the egrets again, over to the far left you might make out the heron again, and the rest are various ducks (mallard, teal,…).

Many water birds
Many water birds

There are also some resident pheasants.  This one attacked me. I don’t blame it since they are hunted by masses of shotgun-toting humans.  I’ve no objection to hunting as such, but the pheasant slaughter is making too big an impact on the landscape as they are bred in thousands just for the hunting.

Pheasant
Pheasant

These cygnets (young swans) are as big as their parents (the two flanking white ones) but haven’t yet got their adult plumage.

Swans
Swans

Finally a teal, resting between dives for food

Teal
Teal

and stretching its wings.

Teal wings
Teal wings

That concludes this quick look at the birds and landscape around Leighton Moss.  I can’t believe it took me two weeks after returning from the UK to get just a couple of days of pictures posted.  Much more to come, with migrating birds in Scotland, historical buildings and the bright city lights of Blackpool Illuminations. Watch this space.

Morecambe Bay Succulents – water, water, everywhere

Succulents are the friendlier version of cacti; they have swollen stems or leaves, but didn’t turn some of their leaves into spikes.  Unlike cacti, they are not all directly related (monophyletic), it is more a common ecological strategy to store water for future use than a genetic relationship.

You can see why this one might want to store water; the soil can’t do that for it, because there is almost no soil in the crack on this vertical rock:

Succulent on rock
Succulent on rock

But why this one? It is awash with water, living in mud for most of the time.

Succulents in mud
Succulents in mud

Well, on the one hand, the mud does occasionally dry up, but other plants nearby don’t seem to need the extreme strategy. I think it’s because of the tides. The mud is mostly salt water so it takes a lot of work for a seed plant to get fresh water from it. But it can get fresh water occasionally when the tide is out, from rainstorms. So the water it gets everyday is not useful water from the plant’s point of view – may as well be desert – and not all the rainwater can be used because the first part of the fall needs to wash away the salt water first, before the plant gets fresh water.
Well, that’s my “just so” story for the day, but it seems like reasonable speculation.

In case you didn’t get made to study it in school, the “water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink” allusion in the title is from Coleridge “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, still a great poem.

UK vacation – nature and history

I officially retired a month ago but prior to that spent a couple of months traveling in the USA and then a month of holiday, overlapping with my retirement date, in the UK.  So I wasn’t home long enough to write this blog; it is hard to do on a phone, no matter how smart.

But now I’ll have some time so I am going to catch up with all the photos I have taken in the last few months but I’ll mix the flashbacks with some current news.

Our vacation in the UK was based in Morecambe Bay but also covered the south of Scotland, South Wales and side trips to Portsmouth, Cornwall and a fair bit of Northern England.

My dad lives in Morecambe, about 15 minutes walk from the Bay.  Dotted around the coast are the villages of Heysham, Silverdale, Arnside, Grange and more.

Morecambe Bay can be a dangerous place.  The worst incident was 11 years ago when 21 migrants were killed, picking cockles (shellfish).

The sign explains:

Warning sign
Warning sign

The sign doesn’t mention the tidal bore because the sign is in Silverdale and the bore is only seen at Arnside but it is a wall of water that roars in like an express train.  I have seen people run from it, abandoning all their fishing gear, then think maybe they can get their stuff and finally realise that they’d better think about their own safety.  The cockle pickers were too far out to reach a safe place.

However, in spite of all danger, your intrepid reporter took lots of pictures of wildlife and other items of interest all around the Bay as well as from the side trips.

However, it got late again, so the rest of the tale will have to wait another day for the next episode, though I thought it was time I at least got started.

I’ll leave you with a nicer picture of the Bay.

Morecambe Bay from Silverdale
Morecambe Bay from Silverdale

 

Weekend in Prague

Prague is a romantic city – I think it beats Paris, even. Still, I’m away on Valentine’s Day again so it’s not as romantic for me as it could be.

Still, Old Prague is so big. Many English cities have an ancient core, but Prague’s is enormous, partly because it was not bombed in the World War.

I have taken a hundred or so pictures, but you’ll get bored if I put them all up here, so here are a few and I’ll do more when I get home.

The picture below is my hotel room on the first floor. I stayed at the Hotel Century Old Prague since this time I’m on my own and unlike some of my business colleagues I prefer the old traditional hotels to the over-priced Americana of the Hilton.

Hotel Window
My hotel window (over the angels) in Prague

Yesterday, since I finally got daylight time since it is the weekend, I went for a long walk through Old Prague. It is huge. Unlike British cities, many of which have an old centre, like York, it isn’t confined to a small district but is enough for a couple of days of walking around, with lots of little alleys, cobbled streets and wider boulevards.

I put this on FaceBook/Twitter already but it seemed appropriate for Valentine’s Day. One of many thousands of statues in various nooks and crannies on buildings throughout Prague.

Man and Deer statue
Man and Deer statue

This time, I made my way over towards the Charles Bridge, a well-known landmark because it is the oldest bridge.

Charles Bridge Prague
Charles Bridge Prague

At the entrance to the bridge, on the left, is Charles.

King Charles at his bridge
King Charles at his bridge

If you face to the left, you can see across the River Vltava towards Prague Castle at the top of the hill. Apart from the ubiquitous pigeons, the birds are the only ones I have seen in Prague.
As you can see, the bridge is covered with statues, mostly to religious figures.

Charles Bridge and Prague Castle
Charles Bridge and Prague Castle

Such as this one

Statue on Charles Bridge
Statue on Charles Bridge

Just across the bridge, there is a church.  It’s no wonder St Nick can afford to pay those elves. His church is not short of gold. Every square centimetre is decorated inside.

St Nicholas
St Nicholas
Inside St Nicholas
Inside St Nicholas
Inside St Nicholas 2
Inside St Nicholas 2

Since it was Valentine’s Day, there was a parade coming down from the castle.  Here are a few shots from it.  I have video so you can hear the jazz band but it will have to wait until I get home to post it because I don’t know how to reduce the size from this machine.

Valentine Parade 1
Valentine Parade 1
Valentine Parade 2
Valentine Parade 2
Valentine Parade 3
Valentine Parade 3

There didn’t seem to be any set theme and the crowd just mingled with the parade.  Everyone (me included) was having a lot of fun to the music of a traditional jazz band.

Then, finally, the castle.  It is the official residence of the President of the Czech Republic and the government and embassies are mostly in included or adjacent buildings.

Gates to Prague Castle
Gates to Prague Castle

A closer view of the statues over the gates: just to show you that invaders or people without tickets will not be treated kindly.

Gates to Prague Castle 2
Gates to Prague Castle 2

Although the actual guards (at least in February) wear more clothing.

Guard at Prague Castle
Guard at Prague Castle

In case of siege, you can pray for help:

Castle Cathedral - St Vitus
Castle Cathedral – St Vitus

Those are magnificent flying buttresses.  And in case St. Vitus is not enough, there’s always St. George, across the plaza.  Each designed to put poor old St. Nicholas above in the shade.

Castle Church- St George
Castle Church- St George

Just in case you think Christian churches get all the glory in Prague, the synagogue’s are non-too-shabby:

Unfortunately, the street is very narrow (but notice the Star-of-David motif set in the sidewalk) so it’s hard to get a good picture – I took several so I hope when I get home I can do some Photoshop magic to stick together and fix perspective.

Synagogue in Prague - centre
Synagogue in Prague – centre
Synagogue in Prague - street
Synagogue in Prague – street

 

Well, that’s all I have time for now as I’m getting hungry.  I have a few more for when I get home, next weekend, but you should have a good sense by now that Prague is a good place to visit if you get the chance.