30 September 2008

British Heart Foundation...


Just a very quick blog to let my regular reader(s) know that it’s getting close to that time of year again... fund raising time!

By the end of the week I hope to have sorted out what I’ll be doing this year to raise money for the British Heart Foundation.

Once everything is finalised I’ll post details here, so please keep coming back to check for updates! The BHF needs YOUR support!

28 September 2008

The Autumn Chill Tour...

On Friday, I finished work at lunchtime and set off for the village of Hartpury in Gloucestershire. I was off to the very first live gig by new band Eden's Hill. The 110-mile trip was reasonably uneventful apart from being sat on the M42 motorway for almost ¾ hour due to an accident. The annoying thing was that the accident was on the opposite carriageway and my side of the motorway only came to a standstill due to drivers slowing down to look at the crash scene! Muppets!

Once I arrived in Hartpury I then had to find the venue for the gig, The Old Chapel. In most villages this would be easy - head for the centre of the village and you can't go far wrong. In Hartpury things are a little different; the church and The Old Chapel are the best part of two miles outside the village, surrounded by nothing but fields! Luckily, I'd plotted the location on my sat-nav before leaving home. If I hadn't, I may still have been driving up and down those rather narrow country lanes!

Hartpury Old Chapel.

Having found The Old Chapel I parked the car and spent a while looking around the churchyard and the church. Finding a church unlocked in such a remote place says a lot about the area. It was quiet, very quiet. It was also very picturesque, the perfect setting for the evening's gig.

Hartpury Church.

One of the features of the churchyard is the bee shelter that dates back to the mid 19th century. The shelter would have been used to house the old wicker baskets, that the bees would have been kept in, before the later wooden hives started to be used.

Hartpury bee shelter.

Late in the afternoon I returned to the village in search of food - The Watersmeet Inn provided a very nice beef and onion sandwich, complete with chips, and a rather refreshing pint of cider. As the inn was on the main road into the village it was also a good place to meet up with one of my mates, Graham, who was also coming to the gig. After a drink, and my food, we set off back to The Old Chapel with Graham feeling rather pleased that I already knew where we were going.

The gig itself was somewhat different to most that I go to... no sound system, no mics or amps, just Gwyneth Keen on vocals, Lizzie Prendergast on violin, Elizabeth Casey on Piano and Emma Bryden on Cello. Together they are Eden's Hill and together they make great music! If I had to give their music a "label" then I guess it would have to be "folk" or "traditional". I hate labels so I'll just say that what they do is stunning! Seeing my friend Lizzie playing the violin whilst sitting down and not wearing her New Rock boots was a bit of a shock to the system though! The rock chick style of playing still came across in one or two of the tracks.

Highlights of the set, which lasted for just over an hour, were "Crow In The Cradle" and a brilliant version of "Black Is The Colour". Gwyneth Keen's vocals on "Neptune" also deserve a mention too. As gigs go this one was pretty damn good, and certainly didn't reflect the fact that it was the band's very first live show. Professional is one word that springs to mind, awesome is another! The band are hoping to have their first album ready by the end of the year and I can't wait to hear it. They also have plans to do more live gigs so I guess I'll be seeing more of Eden's Hill next summer.

Unfortunately, due to the subdued lighting in The Old Chapel, which set a great atmosphere, I was unable to get any photos of the band but I have been sent a couple that were taken by Andy Dolman. Thanks Andy!

Eden's Hill - photos by Andy Dolman.

So, that's my second gig in past seven days and, over the next couple of months, I have another half dozen or so lined up. My "Autumn Chill Tour" is underway!

21 September 2008

Willington - once again!

If Willington Gravel Pits was a members club then I guess I'd be looking at taking out life membership - I've been birding there yet again this morning.

My birding morning started at a little after 7:00AM when I opened the back door to find the hanging bird-feeders covered with House Sparrows, three Wood Pigeon on the ground feeder, a couple of Dunnock foraging amongst the bedding plants and five Blackbirds chasing around as they argued over just who had feeding rights within our garden. The Collard Doves on the garage roof seemed happy to just soak up the early morning sun.

By 8:15AM I was at Willington and walking down the lane towards the main reserve. The lane is only about ¾ mile long but this morning it took me almost an hour to walk to the end. The birds were once again rather thin on the ground but that didn't really matter - I was happy to just spend the time out in the fresh air!

Autumn colour in the lane.

Birds seen on the walk included Dunnock, Robin, numerous Blackbirds, a single Song Thrush, two singing Chiffchaff, a male Blackcap and a pair of Bullfinch. From the first viewing platform I added Mute Swan, Mallard, Coot, Great Spotted Woodpecker and Reed Bunting to my list. I was also pleased to see that the water level at the pits had dropped another foot or so since last weekend. There is still very little in the way of wader habitat though.

The view from platform 1.

When I reached the end of the lane, and platform three, I pitched camp and settled down to see what, if anything, would turn up out on the water - the birds were few and far between. I did manage to locate a total of six Great Crested Grebe, three Cormorant, three Grey Heron and six Teal but that was about all.

The view from platform 3.

A little later in the morning three Water Rail were heard calling, 14 Wigeon dropped onto Gull Pit, two Pintail appeared and a single Shoveler put in a brief appearance. A single Meadow Pipit also flew south - does that class as visible migration at this time of year? Twelve Goldfinch and a flock of Linnet were also seen in flight.

At just after 10:00AM I thought that my birding for the morning was finished when a work party turned up to clear willow scrub, and other unwanted vegetation, from the waters edge and islands just in front of where I was stood. In the end, their disturbance actually helped liven things up a little. Over the next couple of hours they flushed a total of 141 Common Snipe from a 200yd section of cover, the highest count I've ever recorded at any one time. A flock of around 400 Lapwing flew through and 14 Swallows spent a while feeding over the main area of water.

The smoke from the three fires that the work party had started finally got the better of me at around mid-day and I decided to head for home. I'd located just 40 species and added no new birds to my "10-Mile List" but that didn't bother me - I was happy to have been able to get out and about once again without getting wet! I did smell a little "char grilled" though from all the smoke!

Clearance work gets under way.

20 September 2008

Panic Room...

Hello, hello... I am your personal assistant
Above, below... I want to help with your existence
I am your clone... I will do anything you ask me
You're not alone... I am your new best friend
"Elektra City", by Panic Room.

When an evening starts with the gorgeous Anne-Marie Helder uttering those words then you know you're in for a good time! And so it turned out last night when we went to see Panic Room play at The Flowerpot, in Derby.

The band played for just under two hours and the whole set was simply superb. The opening track, Elektra City, has been a favourite of mine since I first heard it, so that was a great way to start as far as I was concerned. Another track that stood out was Apocalypstick, a stunning mix of mystical vocals and amazing musicianship from the band - maybe it's just me but there was a very strong Arabian feel to it as well! That could just be me though!

Anne-Marie Helder also played a couple of solo tracks in the middle of the set that were very well received by the, as usual, enthusiastic Flowerpot crowd. Late in the evening the band also played a song called Blood Red Sky which is a track that Anne-Marie usually plays as a solo artist. As an acoustic track it's great, played by a full electric band it's amazing.

The only minor downside to the evening was the lighting at The Flowerpot - it's great to watch a band there but it's terrible for getting photos! I did try but they weren't good at all! I did salvage one or two and they are below.

Time to go and check-up on Panic Room tour dates now!

17 September 2008

A Dark Angel day!

It’s been “one of those days” today. One of those days when all I wanted to do was get on my bike and get away from work as quickly as possible. At 5:30PM that’s just what I did - got on my bike and rode home like a man possessed! Not only did the ride help to burn off some of the stress it also pushed my mileage over the 500-mile mark. I only started to log my cycle rides on June 13 so I’m reasonably pleased with how quickly I’ve reached 500 miles. My next target is to have ridden 1000 miles by the end of the year.

Another reason for wanting to be at home was the possibility of arriving home to find that the Dark Angel was waiting for me on the doorstep. Sure enough, when I went to check the mail she was there - the Dark Angel has arrived! For those “not in the know” Dark Angel is the latest musical offering from one of my favourite bands, The Reasoning. It was back in January that I first got word of Dark Angel whilst chatting with Matt and Dylan after the gig they played in Crewe. The talk was of a limited edition of the album that would have a bonus DVD with it. Matt was unsure about the viability of such a venture - I was trying as hard as I could to convince him it was a good idea!

Today, fans of The Reasoning have started to receive their pre-ordered limited edition CD/DVD album and I reckon that there will be some very happy people this evening! The album is a stunning piece of work! I’ve read one review already that describes the album as coming at you “like a hurricane wielding a baseball bat!!!”. I can see what they are trying to say but I think that the effect is more like a gentle summer’s breeze that suddenly attacks you with an AK47! The first album from The Reasoning, Awakening, received critical acclaim in the music press - Dark Angel is set to raise the profile of the band even higher.

The official release date for Dark Angel is October 6 but, if you’re quick, you may still be able to get your hands on the limited edition CD/DVD. I can’t guarantee that they haven’t already all gone though!

Full details at... http://www.thereasoning.com/

Whilst you’re checking the web site for details of the Dark Angel make sure you have a look at the TOUR page too - lots of live dates are just around the corner! See you there!

16 September 2008


Okay, so I should really have posted this on Sunday evening but, to be honest, I was too busy watching NASCAR on TV, drinking cider and eating M&M's! They were chocolate M&M's before you ask, Sarah!

On Sunday morning I visited my favourite local birding site, Willington Gravel Pits, for the first time since the Trent Valley was hit by flooding a week or so ago. The gravel pits were totally inaccessible when the river Trent came up and over it's banks. Now, the water has subsided enough to get around the whole area again although Wellingtons are still recommended - I was walking through water that was three or four inches deep at times.

The first thing that hit me as I walked down the lane was the impact the water had had on the earthworm population; the lane was littered with dead worms! Obviously, now I think about it, the ground had become waterlogged, then disappeared under water and the worms would have simply drowned. I know they are only worms but it certainly made me think about how fragile life can be for the flora and fauna at sites such as Willington. Just how many other species will have been affected / wiped out by just a few days of bad weather?

Anyway, onto the birding. The walk down the lane was very quiet with only one Great Spotted Woodpecker, one Chiffchaff, one Goldcrest and one Blackcap being noted amongst the more common species such as Dunnock, Robin and Blackbird. Even the common birds were thin on the ground - again, I wonder just how the flooding has affected them?

When I reached the end of the lane, and climbed up onto platform three, I couldn't help but think back to the birding of the day before - the water level had turned the gravel pits into something resembling the North Sea. The water was deep, very deep. The spit in the middle of "Gull Pit" had disappeared completely, all the smaller islands too. Any hopes of seeing migrant waders faded fast. Common Snipe, 12 of them, and Lapwing were the only waders seen.

Out on the water, the usual Great Crested Grebes, Canada Geese, Gadwall and Mallard were joined by a flock of 20 Wigeon, around half a dozen Shoveler and a few Teal. A handful of Black-headed Gull were noted but nothing like the numbers that have been present over the past couple of months. All the Common Terns have left too.

The flock of Wigeon had me thinking that autumn may well be upon us soon and this was confirmed a little later in the morning when five Pintail appeared on Gull Pit. Pintail are a bird I associate with cold winter mornings, often by the coast. Their arrival was more than welcome though as they were a new species for my "10-Mile List" and the first ones I'd seen since a trip to Martin Mere, Lancashire, back in January.

After spending a couple of hours on platform three I then walked around to the Canal Scrape and was lucky enough to see a Hobby on the way - another bird that will soon be heading for warmer hunting grounds. Canal Scrape was more like an inland sea, the water being deep and widespread and providing nothing in the way of useful habitat for waders. The walk wasn't a total waste though as there were 8 Little Grebe, 20 or so Wigeon, 10 Shoveler and two male Pochard feeding amongst the partially submerged vegetation. Around a dozen Swallows were also flying around low over the water picking off insects.

By the end of the morning I had recorded a total of 40 species. If the water levels had been much lower then I could well have added quite a few more birds - waders - to the list. If the wind had been much stronger, and the waves on the water a little higher, I could well have been sea-watching and adding skuas, shearwaters and auks to my list!

The addition of Pintail takes my "10-Mile List" to 134 species.

14 September 2008

Back out birding...

Yesterday, after a three-week break, I finally picked up my binoculars again and went birding. I’ve not bothered to check the exact distance but I guess I was just a little outside my “10-Mile zone” - I was in Filey, North Yorkshire with the Derby RSPB Group.

The day started off a lot better than the weather forecast had predicted with plenty of sunshine, very little in the way of cloud and only a light breeze. I had been expecting rain so I was more than happy as we headed north. A stop at the motorway services en route lifted the spirits just a little more... or at least the bacon sandwich did!

The coach pulled into Filey Country Park at just before 11:00AM and, as usual, everyone set off in their quest to locate the birds. Lynda and I chose to head for the area know as “Top Scrub” which is basically a long thin line of small trees and brambles. It was also very, very muddy yesterday! The slip sliding in the mud was worth it as we were rewarded with great views of three Whinchat and also a Spotted Flycatcher. The flycatcher was my first of the year so it was good to see - pity it wasn’t about 90 miles closer to home though.

From Top Scrub we headed to the coastal path and a spot of sea-watching. On the way we came across a couple more Whinchat, numerous Linnet, Goldfinch, and a single Coal Tit. By now the wind has started to pick up just a little and it was also coming in off the sea - just what we needed, an easterly wind to bring any passage seabirds closer to land.

Views of the cliffs at Filey.

Once at the cliff tops it quickly become clear that there was a large movement of Gannets heading south. There were groups of six or eight or more passing every couple of minutes or so, often quite close in. Sandwich Terns were also heading south but in much smaller numbers. Overhead, a number of Swallows flew back and forth as they contemplated the long journey ahead of them this autumn.

After spending a short time looking out over the cliffs Lynda and I took the coastal path towards Filey Brigg, the main area for sea-watching. The walk to the Brigg provided us with views of Great Black-backed Gull, Herring Gull, Cormorant, Oystercatcher and Fulmar. A single Wheatear was flying around no doubt eager to be heading to warmer parts of the world. As we approached the Brigg we were alerted to what was possibly the most unexpected sighting of the day, a Pied Flycatcher.

Pied Flycatcher.

A Pied Fly at Filey, in September, isn’t all that unusual but seeing one feeding out in the open, some distance from any trees, on the coast path was a little different! The bird was more than happy to continue feeding as we stood and watched.

Once at the Brigg the sea-watching started in earnest. The wind had picked up some more and the birds were stating to show; Common Scoter, Common Gull, Black-headed Gull, Kittiwake, Teal and Wigeon were all passing in good numbers whilst out on the Brigg itself Redshank, Turnstone and Dunlin were roosting. Out in Filey Bay we located a couple of Guillemot and a single Shag lingered just off the end of the Brigg.

Filey Brigg - in the sun.

By early afternoon the wind had increased but unfortunately it also brought with it a rather heavy sea mist. At first the mist meant we lost view of any distant birds, later it meant the vision was down to less than 200 feet! This was not what we needed! Lynda and I stuck it out for around an hour and did manage to see both Arctic Skua and Great Skua before finally admitting defeat and heading back inland a little.

The mist rolls in!

Back in the Country Park things weren’t much better and the last couple of hours of the day were more of a gentle stroll around the area than serious birding. We did manage to find a male Eider Duck in Filey Bay, when the mist lifted for a moment, and also came across numerous Speckled Wood butterflies in a sheltered area of brambles. As we walked back to the coach a quick check of a hedgerow by the car park turned up probably the most colourful bird of the day, a stunning male Redstart. Again, this was another year tick for me and again I would much rather have seen it closer to home!

Speckled Wood.

By the end of the day we had recorded a total of 43 species. It wasn’t my best ever day-list by a long way but it was still an enjoyable day out and it didn’t rain!

01 September 2008

Bike, camera, action...

A slightly earlier start to the day than usual this morning, coupled with waking up to a clear blue sky, meant that I had an extra bit of time to enjoy the cycle ride into work this morning. I took the long route to work, and took my camera along too.

Living and working on the edge of Derby means I don't get the most scenic of journeys but it does have the odd point of interest and quite a contrast in views.

The A6 by-pass isn't scenic but at least the road planners made provision for cyclists. I ride just over a mile of this boring piece of cycle track that is good for just two things - it increases the length of the ride and helps to push up my average speed.

A6 by-pass.

At the end of the by-pass I pass a piece of land that is, now, no longer scenic or of any real interest to me. The two rough fields used to be an area where I would regularly see and hear Yellowhammer, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Goldfinch and even, once or twice, Bullfinch. Now that the developers have moved in all that is gone.

The start of yet another business park.

Next up is the cycle path that runs alongside the River Derwent. Here the views are much greener, the traffic noise much lower, the birds more noticeable. It's also the start of Alvaston Park and the local BMX track that has just been rebuilt at a cost of around £85,ooo. Time will tell whether this was a good way to spend money to promote cycling in Derby.

River Derwent.

Alvaston BMX track.

Just a few hundred yards further along the river path and I arrive at my favourite part of the ride, Alvaston Lake. I often stop off at the lake for a short while to check on the birds there and also to just pass a little time before I have to be at work. It's a nice way to start the working day!

Alvaston Lake.

The final part of my ride takes me out of the green of Alvaston Park and into the grey of Pride Park, Derby's major business park. Here, I pass one of Derby's talking points at the moment - Pride Park Stadium, home to Derby County football club. The talking point? The amount of league games they have played without a win! It's now 36 games since The Rams last won a league match!

Pride Park Stadium.

After passing the home of The Rams I would usually be just a few turns of the wheel from work, today I took a quick de-tour to go past the local Ford dealer. No, I wasn't looking for yet another new car. I was interested to see what was going on with their latest sales promotion!

For 58 hours, 58 minutes and 58 seconds two local radio presenters have been shut in a glass case to help promote the new car "58" registration plate. When I went past them this morning they had only just started their Big Brother style lock-in but there were already a few people by the side of the road making fun of them!

The glass house.

This evening, I buried my camera at the bottom of my rucksack and came home via the shortest route possible. It was pouring with rain and I got soaked! Commuting by bike... it's great!