Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images: Blog en-us (C) Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) Thu, 26 Apr 2018 15:47:00 GMT Thu, 26 Apr 2018 15:47:00 GMT Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images: Blog 120 90 A bit of a sad tale. I love this time of year – for many reasons – not least, the bees all start getting buzzy – and I do love my bees!

I’ve been spending a few minutes/hours (who’s counting?!) watching the red mason bees

Mating red mason beesMating red mason bees


...emerge from my bee hotels and the tawny (and other) mining bees dig their nests into our fast-drying soil and collect pollen and nectar from the spring flowers in the garden.

I’ve also stumbled across a queen tree bumblebee – who had clearly been interested in starting her nest in our kitchen wall. She probably already had started to be honest, before I spied her crawling into a hole in the outside wall where a water pipe emerges from the kitchen, to take water to our washing machine (in an out-building) off our back side passage.


And this is the sad tale I suppose.

She could have started her nest ANYWHERE else as far as I’m concerned (we’ve had tree bumblebee nests at the house for most of the 7 years that we’ve been here – and almost always in the roof.

But to start a nest in the walls of our back side passage (and kitchen), right beside our back door and where we walk every day, many times – well – I can’t really have that I’m afraid.

You see I’ve watched a good dozen or so tree bumblebee nests over the last decade or so and all are really quite obvious -much more so than “normal” bumblebee nests, to “normal people” (without my particular awareness).

Firstly, tree bumblebees, as opposed to normal bumblebees will nest above the ground (in a roof space, in a bird box, in… errr… a tree!).

Secondly there will be a visible, constant stream of bees in and out of the nest entrance (which is often visible as a hole in a wall, or nest box or tree etc).

Lastly (but not, urm… leastly), there are very often what appear to be sentry bees hovering around the entrance of the nest. Hornet nests have this sort of system too, but that’s well documented – I suspect the tree bumblebee nest sentries aren’t really sentries at all to be fair, but normal worker bees about to go into the nest (and stacked up in the skies like a busy day above Heathrow).

As many readers of this blog that know me might appreciate – I’m hardly one to get hysterical about this sort of thing – I warned some colleagues at work just the other day about their nascent and unnecessary hysteria with regards to the TERRIBLE THREAT (*sigh*) of Asian hornets and our house walls here are covered in the EEEEVIL Segestria florentina funnel web spiders and DEADDDDLYYYYY False widows.

I’m also keen to get the boy onside pronto too – I would rather not have any of my offspring grow up in the traditional (and dare I say… pathetic?) way of being pretty-well petrified of anything that moves.

He’s lucky in that respect I think (our son). He has a “head of biology” for a mother and a father with a pretty superb knowledge of British wildlife and the eyes and ears to notice the wildlife too (I am not surprised for a second that I spotted the tree bumblebee yesterday entering her nest via a hole in my back, sorry side passage – and I wouldn’t be surprised if no-one else WOULD notice that sort of thing).


I texted my wife (well… I “whatsapped” her to be exact) and explained that I had considered this pretty carefully and decided that in order to avoid a back side-passage full of tree bumblebees this summer (potentially defending their nest against our cats and our constantly-passing-shins), I’d have to wait until the queen came back OUT of her hole – and then block the entrance to the nest with a paper towel.

Neither my wife nor I were particularly happy with this (the queen tree bumblebee may have already started her nest in earnest (“her nest in earnest” – nice choice of words there -ED) inside the walls – but it was act now or regret it later.

So, block it I did, when she emerged, yesterday

And the poor queen has been trying to get back in a number of times – I wonder if she’s already laid eggs in the wall cavity?



The deed is done now. And this sad tale is almost over.

I just hope she finds the energy, eggs and time to find another nest site in or around our house

If she’s reading this, might I suggest our old great tit box, which although acting as a winter shelter for a male great tit this year, seems destined to NOT act as a great tit nest site this spring.

Or failing that… ‘owz about the roof again? Served you little bees OK last year?

Wherever you want, Queen bee.

Just NOT in my back side passage!





Again, all photos on this blog post were (of course?!) taken by me. 

]]> (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) bee bees entrance hole house nest nests queen tree bumblebee tree bumblebee queen wall Thu, 26 Apr 2018 15:37:42 GMT
Don't all bi(r)d at once... Never seen this before.

Someone on ebay trying to sell an old nest.

We live near Wokingham in Berkshire – and it does seem to be a bit of a strange place – a lot of money there and not a little attitude to be honest.

But maybe this is how the good people of Wokingham make their money? By flogging loose bundles of twigs covered in bird sh1t, and parasites.

Oh loooook, I understand that the ‘odd’ local school might appreciate having a dirty old magpie’s nest to pour over in a biology lesson (I regularly donate owl pellets to my wife’s biology classes (she’s head of science at a local secondary school) for example) but to try and SELL it in an auction – even for a starting price of 99p?!

I was too busy doing other things (anything else to be honest) than to enquire - but if I had, I might have INSISTED that they post it to me, as I couldn't collect, just to see what the seller would say.


I have no idea whether it sold or not - and whether the nest's rightful owners (Mr. and Mrs. magpie) were rightly-compensated.


Actually - I have rather a good idea of whether it sold.... or... ahem... not.





]]> (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) ebay magpie nest Tue, 17 Apr 2018 12:45:32 GMT
The DSLR. 1985-2018. RIP. A year or so ago, I blogged about my 'return' to "FULL FRAME photography" with my purchase of a second hand Canon 6D but people that have known me and been brave enough to have listened to any of my opinions on the future of cameras per se, will know that I've been of the firm opinion for at least five years that the day of the DSLR was almost over. (The DSLR being the type of camera with a mirror in front of a sensor and an optical (rather than electronic viewfinder), which flips up to expose the camera's sensor when the shutter is opened, rather than a mirrorless camera).


I think we're pretty well there now.

I think the (mirrored) DSLR will die this year. (2018)

Perhaps completely.

Perhaps forever.


Since getting 'back' into photography about 10 years ago, I've always said that Canon and Nikon are primarily GLASS manufacturers (or were I suppose) and the real BIG boys on the camera bodies and electronic fronts would be firms like Panasonic, Samsung, Sony etc. That's primarily why I chose a Panasonic bridge camera to start my journey back into photography with - an electronics firm making my camera body but partnering with Leica, one of the top lens manufacturers, for the glass on the body.

I, as you may know, then bought into the Canon ecosystem (with an APS-C 40D and now a full frame 6D mk I) but I was always very aware of the rise of Sony in particular - with their alpha cameras.

This year, Sony, with the recent release of the Sony A7iii (which comes on the back of the Sony A9 and Sony A7riii - and just before the Sony A7siii) have effectively killed off any hope of reviving the big DSLRs from any camera manufacturer I think - including of course, Canon and Nikon.

The Full frame Sony A7iii is billed (almost tongue-in-cheek?) by Sony as a "entry level camera" but this entry-level camera blows top of the range full-frame cameras from the big two (Nikon and Canon) out of the water I think - plus its a few thousand quid cheaper than them!

It's pretty simple for me.

If I had £5000 to blow on a camera, I'd blow it on the performance Sony (the A9). 

If I can somehow gather up and blow £2000 on a camera, I'd (IN A HEARTBEAT) buy a Sony A7iii NOW. I may find a way to do so even now!

It's full frame.

It's light and small.

It doesn't overheat (old bugbear with mirrorless cameras).

It has an excellent battery life (another old bugbear for mirrorless cameras).

It has focus points covering something like 93% of the frame (rather than the 5% at the centre like most DSLRs).

It has almost uncanny autofocus (AT LEAST as good as much more expensive DSLRs, if not MUCH better).

It has a backlit sensor and is the new king of low light (high ISO) photography.

It can be silent (WONDERFUL for wildlife photography or weddings etc - unlike the tommy gun DSLRs).

It even takes 4K video including slow motion footage.

Finally - with a Sigma MC-11 adapter, it can even work with Canon lenses (but not Nikon though - I won't bore you with the reasons why not).

It's EVERYTHING I've ever needed or wanted in any camera. And its only 2x the price of my (now) dinosaur, the Canon 6D.


I cannot now think of a single reason why Canon owners in particular would want to remain using a Canon DSLR  body with their Canon lenses.

Nor can I think of a single reason why Nikon owners would want to remain with Nikon at all any more.



There may be one reason.

Both Canon and Nikon will this year HAVE TO release their own full frame mirrorless cameras. 

If they don't.... they will die - at least as far as camera body manufacturers are concerned.

And even if they do release their first proper full frame mirrorless cameras - AND those models are a success - this will STILL mean the end of the big, stone-age, noisy, heavy, slow, expensive DLSRs.

Oh alright then.

The other reason might be that Sony, with the release of their A7iii, have effectively halved (or worse) the value of my and everyone else's currently-owned Canon/Nikon DSLRs  - we won't be able to sell them to upgrade to Sony!


There you have it then.

The first proper DSLR was the Minolta Dynax Maxxum 7000 in 1985.

We had 21 odd years of DSLRs before Sony bought (Konica) Minolta in 2006 I think.

And 12 years after that, now... in 2018... laydeez and gennelmen, Sony (who bought the company that made the first DSLR) have jussssst about killed the DSLR off for good.

Perhaps the rumoured 5DX will be the last DSLR of significance made by Canon at least.









NB. I perhaps should point out (in case of any confusion) that I don't think the demise of the DSLR is a bad thing. Far from it in fact. Read my post again.



]]> (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) cameras Wed, 21 Mar 2018 12:30:10 GMT
The Biblical plague. Again. Last year I wrote about the biblical plague of frogs that befell us in mid March - and this year is no different.

Well... no different apart from the fact that we are forecast freezing conditions again this weekend - and this will come AFTER all our dozens (and dozens) of frogs have spawned this week - which is more than a slight concern.

Anyway - a couple of photos of our boiling pond - try and count the number of frogs in the 2nd photo - I'll help you by putting a pink dot over one eye of each frog I counted below.

At the end of this post, I'll tell you how many I counted... (and even I may've missed one or two!)

It looks like we're hosting the entire neighbourhood's frog population at present - primarily because I NEVER use tap water to fill my pond (too much chlorine) and also because our new neighbours have decided to keep fish in the old frog pond they inherited and they've also covered it with a net.

No... I don't understand some people either.

Stay warm this weekend, grapple fans - and let's all hope our frog spawn makes it through to next weekend...



If you want to know how many frogs are in the shot above.... in our pond yesterday... keep scrolling down!





























]]> (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) frog frogs pond Wed, 14 Mar 2018 15:44:54 GMT
'tis toad time tonight. Just a very quick blog post today (as I have no laptop at present so am doing this on a tablet).

Each year I try to write a quick report on this annual phenomenon... this year is no different, despite having no working laptop.

Today, (Friday March 9th 2018)... right NOW (18:40hrs) will be the first night in 2018 here and across large parts of the country when conditions are just right for toads to migrate en masse from their winter woodlands back to their traditional breeding ponds.

Toad crossingToad crossing

All they need is a night time temperature of at least 8 or 9 centigrade and some rain.

BOTH criteria are fulfilled tonight here (and across large parts of the country as I've said) for the first time this year.

Drive carefully grapple fans - and do look out for our wonderful toads tonight...



Toad crossing (2)Toad crossing (2)

Eye of toadEye of toad

]]> (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) bufo bufo bufo toad toad crossing toads Fri, 09 Mar 2018 18:30:08 GMT
Veni. Vidi. Virid. All go here in the (usually) drab, leaden November weeks – but this November it’s all gone... well.... "virid".


From Viridis.

From Vireo.

Verdant. Bright green. Sprouting. Fresh. Virile.


Firstly, we have not one but TWO green woodpeckers visiting the garden daily these days. An adult male (which has been visiting us since it was a youngster, clad in juvenile barred plumage) and now an adult female – which our male, for now, seems to insist on chasing away. I’m sure that will change!

I’ve always thought green woodpeckers are belters of birds – like jays and wagtails, they just seem to ooze character – so I’m chuffed we have green woodpeckers (as well as great spotted) visiting the garden.

The green woodpeckers like to “ant” in our back garden (basically probe around in the wet soil for anthills (of which we have many – by design from me!) rather than look for grubs in our trees like their smaller, great spotted cousins do.

Green woodpeckers have the scientific name of Picus viridis in case you didn’t know.  Viridis I’ve already explained (above) but what about Picus?

I don’t get time these days to add to my “zoonames” website where I started to investigate the classical nomenclature of our birds but if I did, Picus would be a good entry on that website.

You see, Picus, in Roman mythology, was a King. The first king of Latium and himself son of Saturn. He was a bit of a pretty-boy by all accounts and a bit of a dab hand at hunting too – even though he liked to wear his red cloak and gold cloak ring out whilst hunting. The bleedin’ dandy fop!

Aaaaaanywaaaay… one day, whilst out hunting, the local witch-temptress and goddess, Circe (pronounced sursee), saw the foppish King Picus and thought to herself “I’ll have a bit of that, don’t mind if I do”. So, she cast a spell whereby an illusion of a boar running into the woods would tempt the handsome King to follow her into her honey-trap.

King Picus spied the boar and followed it on foot into the tangled forest – when suddenly the boar disappeared in a puff of smoke – to be replaced by the lusty temptress.

Picus rejected her carnal advances (insisting he only could love his wife, the nymph Canens) and so angered by this was the witch-goddess, she turned poor King Picus into a woodpecker. Many woodpeckers of the world these days still exhibit King Picus’ red (or purple) cloak in their plumage.


There you have it then – our virid, green woodpeckers are named after the handsome yet tragic King Picus of Latium


The videos and photos below are all of these royal birds in our garden, yesterday (and today).



But the viridity (is that a word like virility?!) doesn’t stop with the green woodpeckers in our garden at present. Oh no!

Regular readers of this blog miggghhhht just about remember a post I made a few years ago, about the gurt big colony of rose-ringed parakeets at a sewage farm not so far from us. ("Come friendly bombs and fall on Slough").

The rose-ringed (or ring-necked) parakeet is a lurid, virid bird but it’s scientific name of Psittacula krameria just is a nod to an Austrian biologist (Kramer) who died in the mid-18th Century – and unfortunately doesn’t even begin to offer a nod to their ridiculous green colour.

We’ve often had one or two in the garden but as I don’t tend to feed any birds other than jays in our garden, they (the parakeets) don’t tend to hang around.


Look at the poor photo below and tell me how many parakeets you can see in the bare ash tree at the end of our garden.

I’ll tell you if you can’t count past five or so (I know what you lot are like!).


ELEVEN of the screeching, squawking lurid, virid beasties.

I know they’re not well-liked by people on the west-side of London (where the majority of them live – think Kew, Richmond, Barnes, Esher etc) these days but for now they certainly brighten up our damp, grey garden.

OK grapple fans, that shallot for now.

I hope you aren’t *cough* green with envy at my tales of our virid woodpeckers and lurid parrots…

I’ll see you soon.


]]> (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) green woodpecker ring-necked parakeet rose-ringed parakeet Thu, 09 Nov 2017 16:28:38 GMT
800 yards of 'mac. 12) October and summary of the year. We're there.

A full year of reporting on the 800 yards of 'mac - the 1/2 mile country road that I have driven on, run on, walked on, crawled on and lay on, hundreds of times in the past six years now.

There's not a lot to say this month other than so far, October has been a wet, warm, windy month (more than usual). I drove my French(ish) sister along the 800 yards earlier in the month to show her the barn owl (which is still there in its tree) but all we saw was a lovely tawny owl instead. Finally, the council have not yet contacted me about my concerns regarding the SANG proposal alongside "my" 800 yards of 'mac.

OK grapple fans. 

That's shallot.

Thanks for continuing to read this weird series of blogs (which I thought I'd have far more time to put down on paper (so to speak) when I started writing about these 800 yards of tarmacadam which are so close to my heart, a year ago now.

We've come full circle and whilst we started this blog a year ago now with talk of fieldfares alongside the 'mac, as of yet, even though I've heard the fieldfares' cousins, the redwing, I've not YET heard or seen fieldfares on the 800 yards. They'll only be a fortnight or so away now.

The video below I shot today whilst driving along the 800 yards and I'll leave you with that and a list of descriptive links to ALL my "800 yards of 'mac" posts over the last 12 months.

Thanks for dropping by.


Nov 16 -  Fieldfares, redwing, hawthorn berries, stupendous yellow leaves

Dec 16 – Male barn owl back in tree, chocolate-coloured buzzard, rabbits, jackdaw colony, all leaves (bar oak) down

Jan 17 – Little owl in oak tree. Barn owl still in its tree.

Feb 17 – Little owl gone, TWO barn owls courting, catkins bullfinches, a fox in the sheep field.

Mar 17 – Fieldfares gone and redwing about to go, bullfinches, larks, red-legged partridge, roe deer.

Apr 17 – very dry but roadside flowers explode (mouse ear, bluebells, wood anemones and celandines), blackthorn blossom, trees starting to leaf, barn owl, kestrels nesting, roe deer, buzzard feeding and pheasant (video), honeybee tree, toads moving

May 17 – Brambles and nettles, hawthorn blossom, rush of leaves, swallows, martins and swifts arrive, pied wagtails, bullfinches, nuthatches, song thrushes, goldcrests, goldfinches, blue tits nesting. No barn owls nesting. Rabbits, honeybees, tree bumblebees.

Jun 17 – Heatwave, sileage production, umbellifers, horseshoe vetches, marsh mallow flowers, golden-ringed dragonfly, drinker moth caterpillar, linnets, whitethroats, disappearance of female kestrel (assume sitting on eggs), little owl, bone-breaking crow.

Jul 17 – Heatwave breaks and summer ends when schools close. Flowers peak with St.John’s Wort, vetches (both purple and yellow horseshoe), umbellifers all topped with cardinal beetles of course, mallow (both white and lavender coloured), thistles (sow, creeping and spear) and ox eye daisies, swifts disappear at end of month leaving the swallows and martins on their own. Strange disappearance of all owls and kestrels?

Aug 17 – Rain all month. Rots the wheat in the field (ruins harvest) but turns rest of countryside a rich green – bit strange for the heat of the summer?!

Sep 17 – Other than the wheat, nature’s harvest is ON – with big nettles and marsh woundwort (it’s been that wet!) hips, haws, sloes, blackberries, honeysuckle and acorns. Hobby filling up before migration attacks martins over 800 yards, SANG notice put on 800 yards gate – I contact council with my concerns. Barn owl returns to its tree.

Oct 17 – Nothing to add other than it’s been a warm, wet, windy month with a lot of the leaves down already. Took one of my sisters to see the barn owl (as it returned last month and is still there) but all we saw was a tawny instead and as yet the council haven’t contacted me regarding the SANG proposal alongside the 800 yards.


]]> (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) 800 yards of 'mac Tue, 24 Oct 2017 13:40:05 GMT
800 yards of 'mac. 11.) September Lots of news in this penultimate month of the twelve “800 yards of ‘mac” blog posts – good news and bad.


Firstly, as we head into Autumn proper (‘though it feels like we’ve been in Autumn anyway since mid-July), it’s a pleasure to say the 800 yards of ‘mac look superb – even if the plants and wildlife on the 800 yards have taken a right battering this summer.

The hedgerows lining both sides of the road (but especially the NORTH SIDE (I’ll come onto this later) are bursting with big nettles and marsh woundwort (it’s been that wet!) hips, haws, sloes, blackberries, honeysuckle and acorns – so much so in fact that I WAS going to call this penultimate 800 yards blog post, “Hip Hip Haw-ry!”.



I was driving the boy back from rugby the other morning, with Anna beside me in “The Hearse”, and as we turned into the 800 yards of ‘mac, a TRULY SPECTACULAR SIGHT became apparent through the windscreen (in the bright sun that morning, as it ‘appens).

A group of chattering house martins (mainly, with one or two swallows) was being repeatedly dive-bombed alongside the 800 yards of ‘mac, by a very hungry hobby – again and again, very low in the sky – so low in fact that at one point I thought the hobby would hit our windscreen and if we’d have had a sun roof, and it’d been open – the boy would’ve had a hobby in the car!

I stopped the car to get a photo or video (I only had my phone on me), and the hobby kept dive-bombing above my head – at one point I felt I had to duck!

Unfortunately, by the time I’d found my phone (it’s NEVER on me in the car) and fired it up, the hobby had grown tired of stooping unsuccessfully and flown low due east away from the mixed flock of hirundines.

The photo below shows (if your eyesight is as good as mine!) at least some house martins at the location, if not the hobby!

I’ve been back there since that morning, to see if the hobby would return (as I’ve seen a hobby there (which surprised me as its just farmland really and I wouldn’t expect hobby there) before this year, in early summer). But no – no hobby since that morning. Hobbies will all be feeding up now (like house martins and swallows) ready for the migration south – so they’ll be hunting small birds if they think they can catch them. Hobbies are pretty good at this – being one of the only birds that can catch swifts and dragonflies in mid-air.

Well… that’s been the wildlife highlight of the month up at the 800 yards of ‘mac – the good news – but there’s also bad (or at least concerning news).

The land to the north of “my road” (the ‘800 yards of ‘mac) has been designated as a SANG, because of a large amount of housing developments relatively close by. (If you don’t know what a SANG is – please “google it”!)

On my run along the 800 yards of ‘mac t’other day (yesterday in fact), I saw the council notice pinned to a gate (behind which the tree bumblebees were STILL nesting I saw!).

Now that’s not that bad news. At present the four large fields to the north of the 800 yards are farmer’s fields but are pretty-well unused apart from growing grass for sileage sometimes. Skylarks nest in the grass (a few pairs anyway), barn owls and little owls are present. Foxes, stoats, weasels, crows, bullfinches, song thrushes, jays, jackdaws, whooper swans (yes… whooper swans!), Egyptian geese, Canada geese, mallard, pheasant, roe deer, kestrels (of course) and red-legged partridge are ALL present, along with rose-ringed parakeets, tawny owls, swifts, swallows, house martins, pipistrelle bats, drinker moths, tree bumblebees, a honey bee colony and all kind of other things (specifically, many wonderful veteran oak trees) – most of which I’ve photographed and blogged about HERE (just read any of my "800 yards of 'mac" posts).

They’ll “Telly-tubby” the site for sure, so the dog walkers are presented a “natural site” which is palatable to them (meaning “unnatural” really), but at least the site should be safe from development and the wildlife there may (after the initial disturbance in any implementation phase) even benefit from the change in land purpose?

The BAD news is that as is mandatory for these proposals (any development or change of use proposals), an ecological assessment needs to be undertaken -  to see if there is any protected or important wildlife on the site that MAY be disturbed without mitigation.

The trouble is, as I saw after investigating the WHOLE proposal on the council website when I got home, the ecological assessment was carried out in a short time (they always are of course) and carried out about thirty months ago! A LOT has happened up there, wildlife-wise, in that time – and I should know!

The worst part of the proposed development is a piece of (necessary) hard landscaping is provisionally destined to be placed RIGHT BY the pair (this year, remember?) of barn owl’s favourite roost/nest tree. Unfortunately, the two people carrying out the ecological assessment almost three years ago now, considered this tree to be “medium probability of bat roost” when they saw it – but if they’d actually looked inside (with an endoscope) they’d HAVE SEEN a barn owl inside – and as long as that was the case, they’d be NO bats there.

The ecological assessors did find barn owl pellets under one veteran tree (one of their preferred trees but not the one that concerns me) – but I don’t think they saw a barn owl.

Regular readers of this blog will know that I’ve seen three barn owls at one time at this site and two together in one tree (the tree that concerns me most).

Now. The council biodiversity officer at the time (he’s not in post now) of this ecological assessment was informed of the (SCHEDULE 1) Barn owls and has suggested in the planning proposal that a barn owl nest box would be put up on one of the mature (but not veteran or ancient) trees – which would ALL be kept anyway.


That’s all fine and dandy. But if I was a barn owl (or one of a pair of barn owls) which prefer to roost in veteran (ancient) oaks at the site and suddenly discovered that my favourite tree was being disturbed by diggers and dumpers and workmen for a month or six, I’d bugger off. And not to the nest box in a mature tree 100 yards away – I’d bugger off out of the site (SANG). (I have a feeling I know exactly where I’d go actually – as I know of TWO more barn owl roosts within half a mile or so (each in different directions) of this SANG.

So… reluctantly, I’ve had to raise an objection to this SANG in its current proposal (which I’ve looked at in detail).

I think the final, operational proposal may be OK (even if it does mean that there will be no more skylarks nesting on the site as no bleeding dog owner in the country understands “Please keep your dog on a lead – ground nesting birds!” sign it seems. (The subject for another blog perhaps).

It will mean the site won’t be developed on. It might also mean a more varied habitat (including ponds etc) meaning perhaps MORE biodiversity (but only like I say, if dog walkers are FORCED to keep their pathetic stinking little friends on leads).

But at present, I am very concerned about the effect the implementation of the development of the SANG will have on the local barn owls in particular – they’re so picky, barn owls.

I feel SO unbelievably fortunate to have not just one, but perhaps up to five barn owls which I can see within a couple of miles of my house – and I’d hate it if this SANG development disturbed them enough to leave (perhaps permanently).

I also enjoy the current peace and quiet up at the 800 yards of ‘mac – and this would almost certainly go too – but that’s OK I guess – wildlife and areas like this should be for everyone – not just me!

Anyway… I’ve lodged my sole objection as you can see below (I’ve blurred a few lines (the council may want  to broadcast my address - * sheeesh,thanks a lot!* - but I don't!) and changed the location to land north of “800 yards of ‘mac” (rather than the actual road name).

I hope someone from the council (perhaps the new biodiversity officer) gets in contact with me, so we can meet up at the 800 yards, I can show her the EXACT trees that are SO important to the owls (and therefore just WHY one specific aspect of the current proposal concerns me so much).

More next month perhaps grapple fans, in the final instalment of the twelve “800 yard of ‘mac” blog posts.


]]> (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) 800 yards of 'mac acorns barn blackberries blackthorn brambles hawthorn honeysuckle marsh woundwort nest nettle oaks objection owl roost rose-hip sang schedule 1 sloe veteran oak trees Wed, 13 Sep 2017 16:37:55 GMT
The longest caterpillar in the UK.... ... of resident lepidopteran species that is, (i.e. NOT the convolvulus hawk moth nor the death's head haw moth which are BOTH longer but both non-resident) belongs not to a hawk moth at all, but the lowly goat moth.

I say lowly - the adult goat moth is about the size of a typical poplar hawk moth but quite a bit chunkier (heavier) - it is one of the heaviest moths in the UK for sure and DOES hold the title of the resident moth with the longest larva in the UK.

Anna, the boy and I were taking advantage of this superb period of late August weather by taking a walk around our favourite piece of local lowland heath yesterday afternoon - where I go to see/hear nightjars when I feel the need.

It's lovely to see the sun again. Sure... we got lucky  (weather-wise) on holiday on the Isle of Wight but it's great to have great weather back home now too. It's lovely to see the return of the leaf cutter bees in the garden, the return of the potter and spider-hunting wasps, the appearance of 22-spot ladybirds and the re-blooming of the buddleja and water lily.

It was also a delight to walk around my favourite habitat (probably) in my favourite weather, yesterday. Dragonflies were what we were hunting (we found emperors and golden-ringed dragons) but it was the HYOWGE caterpillar that crawled over the boardwalk (built over the peat bogs) that took our breath away.


This BELTER of a caterpillar belongs to the goat moth (Cossus cossus) and IS Britain's longest (and largest) caterpillar that belongs to a resident lepidopteran species. I didn't have a tape measure with me yesterday (hardly a surprise) but I'd say this IPSOLUTE BYOODY was about 100mm long.

Goat moth caterpillars are rarely seen and there's a reason for that. In common with a few moths and certainly the Cossidae species (leopard moth, reed leopard and goat moth), the larvae (caterpillars) burrow INTO their food plant (in the goat moth's case, broad-leafed deciduous trees such as willow trunks) and eats that food hidden from view. With food so low in nutrients (the wood of a willow for example) the goat moth caterpillar digests this food very slowly indeed and needs to eat inside this tree for perhaps four years before dropping to the ground and finding somewhere to pupate underground in August of their fourth or fifth year.

The caterpillars will therefore be hidden INSIDE a tree for four years, visible for a few hours in their fourth or perhaps fifth August as they crawl along the ground looking to burrow under the surface of the soil and pupate. They will then overwinter  (in their 4th or 5th winter generally) hidden underground as a pupa and emerge in the next June, their 5th June (probably) as an adult.

You'll understand now I'm sure that this moth's life cycle lasts about 5 years of which about 3 months is spent as an adult, and all the rest bar a few hours is spent as a hidden larva or a hidden pupa.

Yes... Anna, the boy and I were very lucky to have seen this goat moth caterpillar yesterday and even luckier to have filmed it (see very short video below). We think it was an egg AS we moved into our current house five years ago and has spent that ENTIRE time inside a birch or willow tree on my favourite lowland heath and the ONLY time it broke cover  for a few hours perhaps to look for a spot to pupate in those five years - we were there to see it.

Before I go - I often like to go into detail about the names of moths as they're often so beautifully-named.

I'll be brief in the case of the goat moth though but in case you were wondering, the goat moth is so called because the larvae allegedly smell like male goats. That is not a compliment as I'm sure you know (even if I LIKE the smell of goats!) and I assume it's some kind of defence mechanism to avoid being gobbled up by woodpeckers etc.

And talking of being gobbled-up - the scientific name of the goat moth, Cossus cossus stems from the fact that in ancient times, a Cossus was an edible grub which Romans loved to eat. Invariably these were ALL stag beetle grubs but this caterpillar (in common with a few others, but CERTAINLY this goat moth caterpillar) DOES look a bit like a big grub (large, fleshy and shiny) and DOES behave like one (burrows into wood for its food) although it really DOESN'T look like a translucent and white beetle or chafer grub really.

Anyhoo - that's the goat moth caterpillar.

A very, VERY lucky find for us yesterday and certainly the highlight of the family wildlife walk.

Keep 'em peeled grapple fans - you never know WHAT may turn up at present....


]]> (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) cossus cossus cossus gets" goat moth goat moth caterpillar spawny uk's largest caterpillar Mon, 28 Aug 2017 18:51:12 GMT
800 yards of 'mac. 10) August  I'm afraid, as in recent months and more and more so it seems, I've hardly had time to visit the 800 yards this month, as we enter the last quarter of this blog year (I started this blog last November you may remember).

Firstly, for the first two weeks of August I was run off my feet at work and we had another wet wet wet fortnight, meaning my free time was mainly spent inside.

Then we (Anna, myself and the boy) went for our week's summer holiday on the Isle of Wight, which of course kept me away from the 800 yards then too.

I HAVE visited it once or twice since returning from the Solent though (see video below, shot today for example) and it's clear, like the rest of SE England (or England as a whole perhaps this summer?), the 800 yards is very verdant and lush indeed after something like four normal summer's rainfalls in seven and a half weeks of summer this year.

The only thing that looks brown up at the 800 yards this August is the knackered horse chestnuts (disease I reckon) and the pelts of all the rabbits - the rabbits don't seem to mind the rain at all!

Even the wheat in the field along a part of the 800 yards has gone from being honey-coloured to black - I am left wondering if the farmer has missed his harvest - was he hoping to get it (the wheat) in in mid July - but it really hasn't stopped raining since about then here. 

Can that happen these days?

Can farmers miss their harvests and leave their wheat to basically turn black in the fields?

Surely not you'd think?***

Anyway, other than rampant green foliage, grass, weeds and brambles lining the 800 yards, rampant rabbits and black wheat - there's not a lot to say this month.

Apologies if you were expecting a big update on the kestrels and owls - I can't provide you with one this month (yet!) as I've just not been around to see them.

OK... two months left in this slightly disappointing project - let's hope I have more to say in September when I assume, the frosts might return, the dewy cobwebs surely will and all these leaves may start dropping eh?

Until then, grapple fans....




*** Spooky.

We were watching the local news today and yes.. it seems like a farmer CAN lose their entire wheat crop in summers like this. First the quality of harvest is downgraded from use for beer and bread to animal feed.... and then (as I think is the case up at the 800 yards of 'mac), it's downgraded to worthless - and the farmer watches it rot in his field. How terrible is that (and how terrible has our "summer" been this year, after a wonderfully-hot and sunny Spring?).


]]> (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) 800 yards of 'mac Tue, 22 Aug 2017 18:23:01 GMT
Funky warm Medina Last week, the boy, Anna and I took our annual summer holiday – on the Isle of Wight – and a good week we had too.

I could talk (or write) for hours about the Isle of Wight now (it was our first visit but is a small island and we pretty-well covered it all during our seven days there), but this is meant to be a wildlife blog, so I’ll try to concentrate on subjects relating to wildlife. Please forgive me though if I occasionally stray!

On the 11th August, after what felt like five weeks of continuous rain over East Berkshire, we boarded a ferry by the name of “Red Osprey” at Southampton ferry terminal, at about ten minutes to eleven o’clock on a bright Friday morning.



An hour later (after we'd recovered from hearing what my car's sat-nav had said to us - see the video above!) as we’d sailed up the Medina (now you understand the title of this blog?) estuary, we drove off the ferry at East Cowes and headed Southwest for about thirty minutes (pretty-well as far Southwest as one can drive from Cowes) into rural Southwest Isle of Wight (a mile or two south of Shorwell – for those that know the island well).


We were holidaying at a place called “The Little Barn”, a delightful, relatively-modern barn conversion on the Atherfield-Shorwell road with a HUGE, private superb wildlife wetland area to explore, right alongside the barn.

As we started to unpack the car we noticed a great green bush cricket crawling up the barn’s black timber exterior and we decided to photograph and video it for posterity.

Please note in the video below, shot on arrival at The Little Barn, I refer to the cricket as “him” but it is of course, clearly a big female, looking at her MAHUSIVE ovipositor.


Great green bush crickets are the UK’s largest crickets – this one was indeed a big, BIG female. They are only found primarily in south England but also sometimes in South Wales. You’re supposed NOT to handle them as they can (allegedly) give you a nasty nip, but what the hell… I don’t remember ever seeing such a large cricket in the UK before (apart from perhaps a Roesel’s bush cricket I once found in Reading), so I had to pick this one up!

You’ll know when great green bush crickets are around if you are near meadows in the South of England in the summer, as you’ll hear what sounds like old Singer sewing machines working away all night in the vegetation – these crickets are LOUD! 

The Little Barn was very remote (well, apart from the owners’ (Richard and Susan Perkes) thatched house (itself perhaps a larger barn conversion?) a hundred yards or so away, so we did hear these crickets all night – and NOTHING ELSE. Bliss!

Our first afternoon was spent watching the swallows fly around both The Little Barn and the owners’ house in the sun (and wind – it was windy most of the week, but thankfully dry and sunny too) and the kestrels hovering over the nearby fields.


A little about The Little Barn.

This delightful holiday rental can be found on the web HERE and on Dungewood Lane, off the Atherfield-Shorwell road in Southwest Isle of Wight.

The owners are both very friendly but also leave you to enjoy your holiday in peace, which we greatly-appreciated.

The property itself is really quite large (not so “Little Barn” at all!) and is fully furnished, clean, tidy, modern and completely painted white inside, so very light and airy (lots of windows, patio doors and skylights complete that effect).

Sure, if you’re well over six feet like me, you’ll spend your time ducking from the low beams (EVERYWHERE) in the barn, or like me, smacking your head on the low beams when you forget, but it is a barn conversion after all -the beams are either painted white or honey-coloured wood, so not dark and oppressive like some low beams are in pokey little places.

Everything is provided, from towels to a washing machine, all crockery and cutlery, saucepans etc and even SKY TV in the sitting room, Freeview in the master bedroom and free Wi-Fi throughout (although that stopped for some reason after the second night, so we assume is metered).

There is a large decked area outside the property and a brick barbecue if that’s your sort-of-thing and also that wonderfully-huge and varied wetland wildlife are to the west of the barn which I videoed below.

The wildlife wetland area is huge and is bordered by brooks, which badgers cross each night to forage in the garden. There is a large pond (lake almost) in the garden, home to a family of very skittish moorhens and half-a-dozen mallard ducks and drakes which fly in at dusk each night to roost (leaving again each dawn to feed elsewhere I presume).

Susan and Richard (again, the owners) have clearly succeeded in making this area very wildlife-friendly – it is COVERED in a riot of many types of wild flower, from coltsfoot to vetch to ox-eye daisies, to purple loosestrife, gorse, all manner of umbellifers, yellow corydalis – everything you can think of. Although most of the flowers were over when we visited last week in mid-August, I can imagine it would have looked incredible in June.


Susan and Richard also keep bees at the northern point of the wildlife area – in five hives, which I took the boy to see once or twice. Wonderful!

The owners did tell us that kestrels have nested their before (and they were a constant presence around the area all week, along with the handful of swallows) and it was apparent that there has been a visiting barn owl in the wildlife area in years gone by (I gleaned this information by looking in the visitors book) but although I heard barn owl(s) calling in the fields surrounding the Little Barn and its wildlife area each night, I never saw them – a real shame.

The wildlife area (just the size of it, the privacy of it and the quietness of it!) was a real plus to our holiday at The Little Barn although to be honest, the weather was so good during our week, that I spent little time in the wildlife area itself, instead exploring the rest of the island it seemed.

I did hear shrews and stoats in the wildlife area (and as described above, barn owls from the wildlife area), did see rabbits, pheasants, moorhens, mallards, butterflies (mainly whites and small tortoiseshells), four bats every evening (probably pipistrelles) and a single dragonfly (a common darter) in the wildlife area, together with the bees and crickets of course and I did see clear evidence of the badgers (a territorial-edge latrine and path to the latrine) but other-than-that just didn’t give myself enough time to do a proper full-on bio blitz! Another time maybe?!


The most time I spent in the wildlife area it seemed was after dark when I became painfully-aware that this was a part of the UK and indeed part of the island with particularly dark skies – so I was photographing the Milky Way and Andromeda Galaxy (see below) from the very dark garden, surrounded by those singing crickets and squeaking shrews – my kind of heaven!

Whilst I got a few good dark sky photos (see below) again I regard my time at The Little Barn to be a bit of a missed opportunity to be honest.

I was working like a dawg up to my holiday and had no time to research the Isle of Wight before setting off, let alone what I could expect to see or do on this part of the island. If I had, I’d have realised that this was the BEST part of the island for dark skies (perhaps the best part of the UK – see maps below) at the best time of year (summer – with clear skies AND the Perseid meteor shower peaking on a clear night during our holiday week).

I’d have bought a proper astrophotography lens with my  full frame 6D camera and really gone to town on the night sky photography. But I didn’t – I didn’t bring any bigger aperture lens than my f4 lens so had to make do with that - and unfortunately didn’t even realise we had the meteor shower peak whilst we were there (during one of three cloudless nights!) until the night after! D’oh!

All a real shame – but even so, I did get a few half-decent photos (below) – and I’ll just have to wonder what my photos would have been like with a proper astrophotography lens and a bit more time spent researching all this beforehand. Please note my website has "shrunk" my Milky Way photos below - they are in fact HYOWGE with hundreds of thysands of stars visible on both. I'll perhaps write a separate blog on photographing the Milky Way on this website.


Other than spending time photographing stars and wandering around the wildlife area, what else did I see on the island?

Well… we tried….in vain I’m afraid…. to see red squirrels. I’m fortunate I suppose in that I’ve seen plenty of red squirrels in Scotland, but Anna and the boy haven’t seen any - so the Isle of Wight (a haven for reds and no greys) is a good place to see them – and nearer than Scotland of course.

We only spent about an hour looking for red squirrels (in Borthwood copse near Sandown) but to be honest, with a wood full of dog walkers, mountain bikers and us with a bored, noisy four-year-old – we really didn’t stand a chance  (I’d say we would have certainly seen red squirrels if we’d have been on our own – in fact I’d have bet on myself and Anna doing so ahead of anyone I know) – so we quickly gave up and went to the beach instead (when in Rome).

The only other wildlife of note I think would be the buzzards (everywhere), the rabbits (ditto) the single (young, non-breeding) Sandwich tern which fished in front of me both days at Shanklin beach, the seventy or so black-tailed godwits at Yarmouth (see photo below), the big, bold, cronking raven at Alum Bay and last but certainly not at all least), the beautiful sight of two peregrines over the needles which displayed and even stooped over our heads as we climbed to the viewing point.

So, even though last week was far from a wildlife trip – I most certainly got my wildlife fix as such – with the highlight almost certainly being the peregrine pair at the needles in glorious sunshine (and a gale of a see breeze!)



Other than wildlife and The Little Barn, what else did I (we) make of the Isle of Wight.

In short, I loved it – but…. It does have its drawbacks.


We were staying at quite clearly the quiet part of the island, surrounded by farms (of sweetcorn it seemed and very little else!) and we only saw two cars on the nearby road (the road from Atherfield to Shorwell) all week – absolute heaven!

The island has a population of c.140,000 people – about the same as Blackpool then but in an area about eleven times the size of Blackpool. That doesn’t really do those figures justice though – outside Cowes, Newport, Ryde, Sandown, Shanklin and Ventnor I suppose (so think the 6 largest coastal towns from North on the island to Southeast), there’s no-one it seems – the island seems empty. It’s GLORIOUS!

The roads in general are awful and often single track (at least fun!), there is barely any public transport and it seems like most of the islanders are either farmers (outside the holiday towns) or retired.

Something like 45% of ALL islanders not only own their own homes but have no mortgage, which does indeed suggest that in common with many other seaside areas, the Isle of Wight is a bit like “God’s waiting room” in parts – at least it does feel like that.

Most working people it seems on the island own a pick-up – almost invariably a Toyota, whereas most other islanders (the retired?) own little city cars (Honda Jazz etc) which you need to watch out for. I lost track of the number of pensioners with their noses pressed to their Honda’s windscreens and their eyes screwed up behind their thick glasses, I had to avoid as they strayed onto my side of the road or nearly scraped my car on single track roads even though I’d basically pulled into a hedge for them!

I suspect the IoW has definitely had its heyday as far as tourism is concerned. Who, these days, wants to spend £200 on an 8 mile in total (return) ferry ride to the island (that's the full price red funnel will charge you if you DON'T book via a holiday operator like we did) when you can fly to the Med for that price and guarantee yourself a sunny week? There doesn't seem to have been much money put into the island and for tourism in particular, for years - perhaps decades dare I say?

But the scenery is wonderful – and away from the hustle and bustle of the east coast’s holiday resorts, I found the island delightfully-quiet. Perfect for us. Perfect for me.

I’d recommend Yarmouth to anyone – a lovely harbour full of interesting boats (including a nice big orange lifeboat for the kids) and spider crabs! Good pubs (DO go to the Wheatsheaf, not the Bugle) with REALLY nice seafood. Lovely tea rooms (who doesn’t like a cream tea every now and then?) and some interesting wading birds in the marshes if you’re into your wildlife.

I’d also recommend Shanklin – especially for kids – with a gently-sloping sandy beach, crystal clear seawater (quite warm water for the UK too!) and all the facilities you’ll ever need along the beachside esplanade (which you can park at too – a real bonus!). Just don’t visit the public lavs at Shanklin. Trust me. Don’t!

Finally, I’d recommend The Crown Inn at Shorwell. SUPERB food and a crystal-clear trout stream to gaze at in the beer garden, with WHOPPER rainbow trout on view all the time. (I guess it helped that I remarked that I enjoyed this to the landlady and she gave the boy and I some pellets to feed the trout from our beer garden table – the stream boiled for a while I can tell you!)

The photos below (in no particular order are of the Ferry at East Cowes (with my car at the bow), Shanklin beach (with my car parked on the Esplanade), Alum Bay, the Owl and Falconry Centre at Appuldurcombe House, "The Hearse" (my car) outside The Little Barn and the hearse parked next to a MkII RS2000 (just because I haven't seen an RS2000 since I owned a toy one when I was about 8 years old?! and the owner of this one allowed me a peer under the bonnet when I asked - a very nice bloke!)

Will we be back to the Isle of Wight?

In a word… Probably.

In more words… I hope so. I really do. It's so close to us at present and it's lovely.

We were very-luckily blessed with very sunny  (if windy) weather during the days (I type this with a peeling nose as evidence!) and we chose wisely in terms of renting a remote property on the quiet, dark side of the island. We got lucky with our local pub (the Crown at Shorwell, 2 miles away) being great -we ate there on all but one evening. We loved Yarmouth, liked Shanklin for the boy (and for us I suppose), liked the incredibly picturesque owl and falconry centre at Appuldurcome House, enjoyed The Needles (very much) …. but…. We need to return to see the red squirrels at the very least and return with a proper astrophotography set up at the very most.


So, we’ll be back for sure I think.


Thanks for now, Isle of Wight.

See you again soon I hope.



]]> (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) badger barn owl black tailed godwit colstfoot gorse great green bush cricket honey bee isle of wight kestrel ox-eye daisy peregrine rabbit raven shrew stoat swallow vetch Sun, 20 Aug 2017 16:39:36 GMT
800 yards of ‘mac. 9) July. Not much to say really this month as I’ve not had much time to get up to the 800 yards all-in-all.

But… I will say this. At the time of writing, it seems to have been a month of two halves. The mercury topped 30 degrees celcius a few times in the first week of July, with no rain to speak of - and even the second week was warm(ish) – but we’ve also had some torrential rain and much cooler, windier conditions in the latter part of the month to date.

During the earlier part of July I did manage a couple of walks along the 800 yards of ‘mac and did see that we were in FULL flowering season along the roadside, with St.John’s Wort, vetches (both purple and yellow horseshoe), umbellifers all over the place (all topped with cardinal beetles of course!), mallow (both white and lavender coloured), thistles (sow, creeping and spear) and ox eye daisies all going bananas in the fallow edges to the roadside meadows.

All the photos below were taken by me on my phone whilst I walked along the 800 yards in early July on one of those 30C days (which seem so far away now!).

As I type again, the swifts which have been with us since the first week of May (and in small numbers above the 800 yards too) have (very sadly) all but gone in the last few days but the swallows which nest in barns alongside the 800 yards are still going strong – and on to their second brood in many cases. It’s just a shame they’re having to fly around at ground level during the last week to catch their insect prey, rather than soaring into the deep blue skies so often more associated with July.

No word on the owls (barn or little) as I’ve not seen them all month, nor the family of kestrels (strangely enough).

I think that’s all I really have to say this month (I do apologise – I’ve been very busy!)  - I’ll try and get up to the 800 yards of ‘mac more in August and give anyone reading this blog a little more depth to what many regard as the last month of summer, eh?

Until then grapple fans.

]]> (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) 800 yards of 'mac Mon, 24 Jul 2017 16:14:46 GMT
800 yards of 'mac. 8) June. Flaming June then?

As it happens… yes!

June has been somewhat flaming, at least in parts, with a heatwave including the hottest June day (at 35C) in these ‘ere parrz since 1976 (the summer of which I just remember but my wife doesn’t as she wasn’t born until the end of that particular year!).

 The video below was shot with my dashcam, just before the heatwave hit, but with a suitable tune on the car hard drive of course!

The next video I shot AFTER the heatwave with my phone as I walked back along the 800 yards a few days later.

That sultry heat has disappeared as I type this monthly round-up but what else has happened on the 800 yards of ‘mac this month?

June is peak season for pretty-well everything along the road.

Plants, insects, mammals, birds – the lot.

Firstly, whist the blackthorn blossom disappeared at the start of May, the hawthorn has also now gone the same way, to be replaced in abundance by sprays and sprays of umbellifers lining the 800 yards – umbellifers backed up by thick, flowering brambles.

The wheat alongside the road is doing nicely (we’re only 5 miles from the Maidenhead constituency here, so I assume Theresa May may well be pegging it through these fields any time soon?)

The farmer has made hay, almost literally. Sileage to be exact which has been cut in the last week. I always feel a little sad about this as I’m convinced it’s not just insects that are killed en masse when the grass is cut – Anna and I counted harvest mice nests in a local field which never gets cut a few years ago – there were dozens!


In amongst the thick roadside vegetation, all kinds of meadow flowers are doing their best to get a piece of action, from pale purple marsh mallow flowers to canary yellow horseshoe vetches. All of course are literally humming with pollinators.

A walk along the 800 yards will be punctuated by rustlings from the thick grasses that line both sides of the road. A rabbit kit darting back into its warren, or just as likely, a (relatively noisy) shrew – always on the hunt for food.

The 800 yards at this time of year is thick with insects, from the honeybees (still nesting at the base of their traditional oak), to marbled white butterflies floating over the bramble flowers and indeed dragonflies.

Can YOU spot the insect in the shot below? A close-up is revealed at the end of this post if you can’t! Apologies for these two photos by the way (of this mystery insect) - both were taken with my phone only.

I normally happen across the cuckoos’ favourite food (drinker moth caterpillars) in June – almost invariably wandering across a track or path or road, on the hunt for somewhere to pupate and this June was (sadly) no different.

The below is a shot of a sadly squashed drinker moth caterpillar, squashed by Mr. Pirelli or Goodyear on the 800 yards. (Not by me I should add!)

As for the birds – it’s peak season for our feathered friends too.

I still regularly run into the bullfinches, who, I assume, have nested by now, ditto for the song thrushes and linnets and goldfinches.

My walks along the 800 yards now are always punctuated by the indignant raspy shouts of whitethroats hidden in the brambles and hedges but who are never happy to see me.

I haven’t seen the pied wagtail for a good two weeks now so, again, like the bullfinches, I assume his nesting work (or feeding his nestlings work anyway) is done at least for now.

The kestrels seem OK. I watched the male chase the chocolate buzzard around a blue sky above the 800 yards the other day (look hard at the photo below).

As for the kestrels’ nest – well… I assumed the female was on eggs in the box throughout May and caring for her brood almost full time for the first fortnight in June – but yesterday and today (23rd and 24th) I’ve watched her sit on the barn outside the box for some time. I now assume either the nest failed or the young are now big and old enough to allow the female out of the box to help her mate hunt for the nestlings. If that is the case, they’ll fledge in a fortnight or so.

The thing which worries me though about any young kestrels is that I can’t hear them. I have plenty of experience locating falcons’ nests by hearing them first – and I can’t (for some worrying reason) hear this nest.

Time will tell on that one I guess.

I’m not sure about the barn owls either right now. I never am to be fair, in the summer, as I’m almost always asleep in the 6 hours of dark at this time of year, when these birds are hunting. I’ll take a day and night off soon perhaps to check to see whether the two spots I KNOW barn owls (PLURAL) were roosting have produced young this year and hope to let you know -  certainly if the traditional barn owl tree on the 800 yards has produced a barn owl family anyway!

Talking of owls, a nice surprise for me yesterday as I chanced across an adult little owl on the 800 yards – which I’ve not seen since the winter, when the oaks were bereft of leaves.

This adult little owl was hidden in thick oak foliage, but a loudly ticking wren gave it away to me and as I sidled up to the large, hollow oak, the owl turned and glared at me with big black and yellow eyes and burst out of the foliage.

Finally, we seem to have a lammergeier on the 800 yards.

The zoologically-knowledgeable amongst you will know that the lammergeier is otherwise known as the bearded vulture or ossifrage; ossifrage because of its habit of eating bones, or bone marrow anyway.

The lammergeier will locate a carcass, fly high into the air with a bone, drop it from height onto the rocks below and then fly down to gorge on the delicious bone marrow which has been exposed in the shattered bones.

We have a local butcher (by the look of things) dumping skeletons (well, spines, leg bones etc but no skulls) of animals (I’m not sure which – perhaps deer, sheep or pigs) occasionally but regularly along the 800 yards.

This clandestine tends to attract down the omnipresent red kites and also excites the local foxes. But in the last month, the carrion crows, sorry, lammergeiers (whoops!) are now becoming bone marrow eaters too.

Clever birds, crows. The shot below shows one of these dumped thigh/hip bones after getting dumped onto the 800 yards by a crow as I walked below with a camera.

I don’t suppose this is the first documentation of a carrion crow behaving like a lammergeier in the UK by smashing bones on tarmac to get at the marrow -  but it’s the first time I’ve seen such activity!


OK grapple fans, that shallot for June.

Have a lovely rest of the month and an even hotter July eh?!





The mystery insect?

A golden-ringed dragonfly!

(Photo taken with phone).


]]> (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) 800 yards of 'mac Sat, 24 Jun 2017 20:46:10 GMT
800 yards of ‘mac. 7) May. Before I start this month's update, I bet.... I bet you that after you read the post below and play the last short video (the song)... I bet you go around singing it for days.

Don't believe me....

Watch it and see...


Right. Where were we? Ah yes...

It’s becoming increasingly clear to me as we progress through the twelve “800 yards of ‘mac” blog posts that I’m struggling to find time to really explore (in the detail that I’d like) everything that’s happening on this stretch of tarmac at a local country farm – I’m just too busy!

That said, I do visit most days, if for no other reason than to begin my stumblings through the farm on my “runs”. Runs in quotation marks as most people that saw me wouldn’t call what I do through the farm “running”. More like slow wobbling, sweating, swearing and bleeding.

Anyway… what has happened on the 800 yards of ‘mac in the last four (or so) weeks?

Firstly, the driest April since the Cretaceous period (probably) broke as May arrived and we’ve been having a little of the wet stuff recently (with quite a bit forecast this week I hear). Together with a change in wind direction, if not strength (from an easterly to a south-westerly), this has resulted in a sudden rush of green around the 800 yards.

April’s bluebells are now pretty-well over and dwarfed anyway by the rampant nettles and brambles that have exploded into life over the last fortnight or so.

Gone also is the blackthorn blossom, replaced by the similar, if less spectacular (as it comes AFTER the leaves, not before like blackthorn) hawthorn blossom.

With the hawthorn have come the swallows, martins and my favourites… the swifts. Swallows are an integral part of the 800 yards of ‘mac from May to September as they nest in open horse stables which are EVERYWHERE in this area (East Berkshire and especially where we are – north of Bracknell, near Winkfield, Ascot, Warfield and Windsor… so think Polo (the sport) in particular).

Also nesting in a stable, albeit an alpaca “stable” (shelter really) just off the 800 yards, is a family of pied wagtails. On my walks up and down the 800 yards of ‘mac in May so far, I’m ALWAYS accompanied by a very upbeat-looking (I know I know, wagtails can’t be “upbeat” … that’s a human emotion) male wagtail, dancing up and down on the tarmac in front of me, picking off weak insects before bouncing away to the nest with them.

I do love wagtails. As I’ve mentioned above, I’m well aware wagtails aren’t “happy” … but they always make me happy for some reason – it’s just that they appear to be happy little birds.

I haven’t seen the barn owl(s) at its(their) hollow tree for a few weeks now. That’s not to say it’s(they’re) not there… just that I’ve not seen them (see the first paragraph of this piece). At this time of year, I do often (unless they’re obviously breeding) tend to lose track of “my” local barn owls as they only appear well after I’ve gone to bed and head off back to bed themselves well before I get up, generally.  Do I think they’re breeding in one of their hollow trees alongside the 800 yards of ‘mac? In a word – No. In a few more words – perhaps, ‘though I’m not convinced at all.

There are other birds breeding in the bushes and trees lining the road though. I know song thrushes are (it’s such a joy to see song thrushes these days… I never thought I’d say that as they were SO common when I was a boy). I know a pair of bullfinches are too, as are a few pairs of goldcrests. I’ve not looked for or found any of those birds’ nests though (no time) and nor have I tried to find the skylarks’ nests in the pasture meadows to the north of the 800 yards of ‘mac (ditto) but by these birds’ behaviour – it’s clear that they’re nesting.

I have located a nuthatches nest though and a blue tit’s nest – both in the same large ash tree near the end of the 800 yards. Regular visitors to this site may know I am seeing and hearing nuthatches EVERYWHERE these days, so it’s no surprise (to me anyway) that I’ve found my first nuthatch nest on the 800 yards of ‘mac this year.

I’m not sure where the chocolate buzzard is nesting (or even if it is nesting) but I’d think it wouldn’t be too far away.

Rabbits are more and more noticeable along the full 800 yards at present; rabbits of all sizes and right at the start of May I happened across a hare at the edge of a crop field alongside the road.

The only other thing worth mentioning this month (I think) are insects, specifically bees and even more specifically, honeybees and tree bumblebees – both of which have colonised different things along the 800 yards.

First, the honeybees. I must’ve mentioned before (in at least one previous post?), the fact that there’s been a colony of bumblebees using the same knot hole in the same tree trunk for 5 years on the road. This year these honeybees seem to be entering the tree from the base! I’ve never seen anything like this before with bees, especially because this is a large, solid, healthy tree – with no apparent access into the trunk let alone room for a large colony of honeybees! A terrible (but thankfully short) video of these bees gathering above the brambles at the bottom of this large tree can be seen below.


Lastly, the tree bumblebees.

Tree bumblebees are the only species of bumblebee to nest above ground (often in roof spaces or empty bird boxes etc). These tree bumblebees have chosen to occupy a threshing machine parked by a gate leading off the 800 yards of ‘mac to a private pasture and are therefore nesting just a foot or two off the ground.

How do I know the bit of farm plant that they’re nesting in (see short video above) is a threshing machine?

To be honest, I don’t know that. I’m no farmer after all. But I like to think it’s an old, rusty, defunct threshing machine, if for no other reason to leave you with the video below.

Onto flaming June grapple fans… and let’s hope it really is flaming, eh?

]]> (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) 800 yards of 'mac May Mon, 15 May 2017 16:50:04 GMT
More kestrels manoeuvre in the park. This long weekend gives me the opportunity to upload a few short video-clips (30 seconds each) documenting the mating behaviour of the (wild) pair of breeding kestrels that I’m filming at a local farm. (Yes a farm, not a park, but "more kestrels manoeuvre in the farm" wouldn't have the same ring to it, would it?).


All clips were filmed using a(n old) Bushnell trail camera in the last week of April 2017.


The pair seem to be nesting in a box that was originally designed for barn owls but has had little owls nesting in it a few years ago (which I also filmed).

I don’t think the female kestrel is laying eggs at present, but she may be. The two kestrels are certainly mating often each day and I’m lucky enough to have captured their “routine” several times with this trail camera.

The “mating cattle shelter” (on the roof of which my trail camera is placed) is a few dozen yards from their next box in a large oak tree, in the middle of an arable field.

There are hares in this field as well as roe deer and red-legged partridge. A roe buck and three hinds regularly shelter under the roof of this cattle shelter and last week I noticed three mandarin ducks (well… two ducks and one resplendent drake) roosting on the shelter roof too. Unfortunately, my trail camera didn’t record any footage of these birds as they sat directly behind the infra-red sensors.

The clips below show the general mating routine of this pair of kestrels.

You may need to double-click each clip to bring about a full screen format of each video.


This is the (wild) breeding female kestrel I'm filming this year. A smidge larger than her mate, with more camouflaged plumage (a striped brown(ish) tail and a duller, mottled head unlike the male's blue-grey head and grey tail with very few cross bars).





... and this is the male. A tad smaller than his mate but as is often the case in birds, a bit more colourful in plumage (blue-grey head and grey tail) than the female who often has to sit on the nest and stay put, as out-of-sight as can-be to predators.


Step 1 - the male kestrel (foreground of this video) brings in a field vole to the barn roof and calls the female in (if she's not there already).

She takes the vole and begins to eat.


NB. The dates and times imprinted on these short video clips are accurate but ignore them in this sequence as I'm uploading a select few over a few days to show the mating protocol in its entirety using different clips from different days).




Mating process Step 2 - She devours the vole. He preens, nearby.


Mating process step 3.

Another example of the female swallowing the vole (almost whole this time) as the male sits nearby and preens. She often calls him over to mate when she has finished eating.



Mating process step 4 -

Sometimes the female evacuates her bowels (well... her cloaca anyway) in readiness for mating.

The male... errr... still preens.



Mating procedure. Step 5.

The male jumps on his mate.

Mating occurs.



Mating process step 5 (or not) -


Sometimes the male doesn't seem interested or seems to get confused. More often than not, he mounts his mate, but occasionally, this happens...

Another chance to see my original close-up HD footage of these two kestrels mate a fortnight or so ago (using another trail camera with a close-up filter attached to the basic lens).

No privacy when I'm around. None at all.


]]> (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) kestrel Mon, 01 May 2017 08:59:46 GMT
Kestrels mating. Close-up HD video.  

I know, I know... the photo on the front page of this blog post isn't of kestrels but of red kites, innit? You're right, but I've not got decent photos of kestrels whereas I have of red kites. (How ridiculous is that to admit - but it's true - these days red kites are FAR more common 'round theez 'ere parrz  than "windhovers").

Anyway... I digress...


As an aside to “800 yards of ‘mac”, which I blog about each month, I thought I’d quickly bring you a few 30 second videos of a pair of kestrels I’ve been filming – all shot within a few hundred yards of the strip of country road I write about.


These kestrels have set up a territory in what used to be little owl ville – regular visitors to this site may in fact remember the barn I videoed the little owls on appears again in these clips – it’s the same barn after all.

The little owls are still around (I regularly still see them), but they’re not obviously nesting in one of the three nest boxes put up in the three large oak trees next to this barn.

This year, the kestrels have taken over!


In fact, some of you may well remember that whilst I was shooting little owls a few years ago (I filmed them breeding in 2012, 2013 and 2014) I also took the video below of the female kestrel mobbing one of our adult owls before it bred.

As I filmed this five years ago, I’d suspect that the female kestrel I filmed yesterday is NOT the same bird as in this clip (kestrels often don’t live to two years old let alone five or six or seven although they can live into their early teens) but it may be I suppose – there’s no way of telling.


I’m particularly fond of owls (any type) so took great delight in finding and filming a pair of successfully-breeding little owls a few years ago – and would love to do so again… but kestrels are very pretty raptors, in a little trouble, population-wise – and are of course native to our shores, unlike the little owl – so I’m certainly very happy to film kestrels instead of owls this year.

On my walk through the farm yesterday I watched the kestrels from a few hundred yards away with a pair of binoculars, as my trail camera, already in place, two feet (yes, only two feet) from one of their favourite perches, rattled off 45 clips for me between 0530 in the morning and 1930 at night.

Luckily for me I’d set up the trail camera in pretty-well exactly the right spot to film the two adult kestrels mating – which they did at least twice during the day (once at 1135 - which I watched through binoculars from the field edge and at 1910 which I wasn’t there to see, but the trail camera filmed for me anyway).

In each mating, the male would fly in, give his mate a vole to eat, give her ten minutes to eat it (he’d sit out of shot, preening) and then jump on her for a bit of ‘ows yer farther?

For the clips above (this year), I used my newer trail camera with a close-up filter screwed into the main lens. This allows to me to focus on small things (smaller than kestrels ideally - it’s designed for blue tits rather than kestrels!) at a distance of between two and three feet ONLY.

This comes at a cost though – footage doesn’t come with a sense of surroundings; the birds HAVE to be on the EXACT spot the camera needs them to be in focus and they HAVE to STAY there.

Fine for static animals – but quite difficult to guarantee birds behaving so predictably (birds live in a very 3D world and can perch anywhere whereas us lowly mammals exist in a far more predictable 2D (if you see what I mean?) world.

Well... I certainly got lucky with the site I chose for the close-up camera, but I’ve now taken that camera down and replaced with my older trail camera which does not have a close-up lens and can focus on flighty critters at several spots in front of the lens as long as the subject(s) is(are) at least 8 feet from the trail camera.

All my little owl clips were shot with the old trail camera – you can see them all here – you’ll also note that the owls seem much further away in those clips than the kestrels in today’s clips – well… they are I suppose – 9 feet rather than 2!


I’ve waffled on enough. This was meant to be just a tiny sentence or two and a few clips to show you our beautiful pair of dashing kestrels gittin’ in awwwn at the local farm.

Have a lovely weekend grapple fans.

Catch you soon.


(Please note, with all the clips above, especially the you tube clips, please change your you tube settings (when playing the clip) to the highest quality to view the videos as they’re all shot in at least 720 pixel format, if not 1080).

]]> (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) kestrel Sat, 22 Apr 2017 07:19:18 GMT
Horny nuthatches. Use your ears. Regular readers (pl?) of my errr… “work” may know that I’m always banging on about “using your eyes” as it never fails to amaze me just how awful most people are at REALLY doing just that.


I’m regularly just-as-amazed at just how poorly most people listen to things too. Well… listen to and hear things and at these times I’m reminded that it’s not just our eyes we should use (if we’re fortunate enough to have a pair of half-decent eyes that is) but also our ears.


Throughout my life I’ve met (many) people who’ve told me that they’ve never or rarely seen a kingfisher / goldcrest / nuthatch / sparrowhawk / bullfinch (delete where applicable) and why or how do I manage to see so many?


It’s often in the hearing first rather than seeing and a recent event has confirmed that to me.


My wife, son and I were walking through Windsor a fortnight ago – a few hours showing Ben where our special ruler with her special blood lives in her special castle overlooking her not-so-special subjects below in the town. (You’re correct… I’m certainly no monarchist and one day desperately hope that we as a collection of people will grow up out of our “Dungeons and dragons” obsession and realise that we’re a little more evolved these days than to seriously allow Kings, Queens, Dukes, Princes and Princesses into modern society because what… their special blood? Whilst we are ruled by these poor sods, do the servile Monarchists amongst us still fear dragons and goblins and orcs?!).

I do remember a time before I sprouted secondary sexual characteristics that castles and crowns and bearskins interested me, so I thought I’d give the boy some of that naïve joy of youth too.


Annnnnywaaay, we soon realised that it was waaaay too expensive to get in to the castle proper and therefore the boy would NOT actually be getting to meet the Queen (see photo below) who was actually there at the time (said a jovial copper to us as he held his semi-automatic proudly).

The Queen, in Windsor Castle.The Queen, in Windsor Castle.


Disappointed, with our pox-scarred chins bowed onto our filthy smocks and followed by a cloud of flies we shuffled away from the castle, like the stinking rag-clad peasants we are and headed into town for some gruel and maybe a crust of bread if our search of the roadside drains proved lucky.


On shuffling past the church, outside which a rosy-cheeked, well-fed cleric shooed away the lepers and insane, I heard a strange avian noise coming from a large tree in the church’s graveyard.


It sounded like a young bird perhaps, calling for its parents. But not in early April and not in a (still) bare tree?


I’m pretty-good with bird calls (see below) but for the life of me I didn’t know what this bird was, so I asked Anna to wait for a second whilst I pushed past the sweaty priest to get into his graveyard to see just what this bird was!


About thirty seconds later I had my answer – a nuthatch, bold as you like was re-plastering up an old nest hole in a large branch of a big tree and before she (he?) set off again to grab some more plastering mud, she (he?) would belt out a mating call – and THAT was the sound I had heard from the cobbled streets below the church.

I made a mental note of that sound, what a nuthatch engaged in that behaviour (attracting a mate) sounds like, threw the priest a groat for his time and caught up with my wife and boy.


Now… since then, two weeks have passed and I’m hearing nuthatches EVERYWHERE!


I was walking to my local accountants (turf accountants that is, of course) to place a wager on the Grand National a week after my Windsor nuthatch moment, heard the same sound, went looking and there we had it – another nuthatch, 200 yards from the house!


On opening a bedroom window for some air t’other day I heard the same sound coming from a big ash tree at the end of our garden (just the other side of the fence) – another nuthatch!


I’ve stopped following the sound to confirm my identification now as it’s obviously a nuthatch I’m hearing - the sound is that unique!


The point of all this wittering I suppose, is that I don’t know if I’d previously learned what a horny nuthatch sounded like (and forgotten what I had heard), but I had now certainly taken the time to learn what a horny nuthatch sounds like and I don’t think I’ll forget this in a hurry.



I’m now hearing (and therefore seeing, if I wanted to) lots of nuthatches – something I wasn’t doing a month ago or a year ago, or in fact ever before.


It’s amazing what you can see, you know, if you know what you’re hearing (or listening to) first.


Let’s take a few more of that “kingfisher / goldcrest / nuthatch / sparrowhawk / bullfinch” list above.


Lots of people have remarked to me that they rarely see kingfishers, even though they may have spent several decades walking along rivers or canals.

It’s difficult for me to understand this really, as kingfishers, small as they are, actually announce their presence to anyone interested enough to want to see them.  Seeing them is a piece of cake and it’s not as if they sometimes announce their presence either – they ALWAYS do so! Like I green woodpecker that sometimes audibly “yaffles” its way into the sky from a tree trunk, a kingfisher will start one of its rapid, low flights up a river by peeping, very loudly, like a wee intercity 125 – and then, very often continue to peep during its flight. Learn what this kingfisher call sounds like (watch the short video below if you like) and when you hear it, stop and scan the water surface from a foot above the water to about five foot above the water, and within seconds a tiny neon-coloured bird will belt past you.

E V E R Y….. T I M E!



That’s the kingfisher, what about the goldcrest?

Goldcrests, like their gold cousins, the goldfinches, seem to be becoming more and more common in gardens these days. One could reasonably assume that this is a result of our obsession in the ‘80s and perhaps the ‘90s, for planting leylandii firs in our gardens – goldcrests like mature evergreens!


Goldcrests may well be in your gurt-big leylandii, but as they’re only the size of a pin head (or something) and only weigh the same as a mouse’s left testicle (or something), then how can you be sure?



Bill Oddie once described the sound of a chaffinch singing as similar to a fast bowler taking a run up and delivering a fast ball! Again, rather like the monarchy I fear, I’m no fan of the poison dwarf Oddie, but his description of a chaffinch song is spot on in my opinion!



Well… the goldcrest, to me, sounds a bit like a fast bowler too, albeit a sort of young, lanky fast bowler with a lolloping run up to the wicket before delivering the googly.



You may think the chaffinch and the goldcrest sound nothing like each other and certainly nothing like fast bowlers, but they may sound like something else to you. Remember that something else!


When you’ve remembered what a male goldcrest singing sounds like, believe me, you’ll hear them everywhere you go. EVERYWHERE there’s a fir tree, a leylandii or anything coniferous to be honest – you’ll hear ‘em, and you’ll be able to point them out to people who say they never see them!


We have goldcrests in our three leylandii in our back garden and I suppose I’ve learned what these delightful wee birds sound like because they, like wrens, LOUDLY BELT OUT their song for months and months!  Our three leylandii sit outside our lavatory window (I know you’d want to know that) and each time we ablute, we can listen to our goldcrest singing outside the window and pretend we’re sitting on a throne in paradise. Which… of course we are, grapple fans.

I’ve dealt with nuthatch above, so let’s finish with sparrowhawk.


Sparrowhawks, being ambush predators, are very often silent. Sure, they make a pretty distinctive call when they want to (look on YouTube for that – there’s bound to be a clip somewhere) but I’ve seen most of my sparrowhawks by listening to other birds.


Before I was old, fat, arthritic, knackered and married with child, I was once living in an HMO (house of mixed occupancy) on the northern side of the valley of High Wycombe. I had the use of a double room facing south, with quite a nice view over the gardens of High Wycombe in the valley below.


For many months in my early twenties, I used to while away the hours by my window, write poems of love and play my lute  (cough) whilst watching the birds in the big sky over the sleep hamlet of Wycombe. (I was a baker by trade and worked nights so often had mornings by my window, watching birds before turning in for the day!).


It was during these “lost months” that I learned to appreciate the “HAWK!!!!” alarm calls of starlings in particular, but also great and blue tits, sparrows and collared doves.


I literally used to watch birds explode out of successive gardens in the valley below, as a hawk powered through each garden like a heat-seeking missile, intent on grabbing any bird slow to react. I didn’t see the hawk itself unless it flew through our HMO garden at the top of the valley, having not nabbed a meal below. But this regularly happened and it was then that I put two and two together and realised the sight of these alarmed birds was joined by very distinct alarm calls made by the same birds.


In fact, brave starlings would often mob the hawk if it rose into the sky, all the time shrieking their “HAWK!!!” alarm.


So distinctive is the little bird “HAWK!” alarm call (especially from starlings these days – in fact I think I can tell the difference between a starling “HAWK!” alarm and a starling “PEREGRINE!!!” alarm, that I regularly surprise (and bemuse?!) people I’m with on walks or with in the back garden (ours or theirs).


We’ll be talking about something or other (perhaps about Bill Oddie or the Monarchy?), I’ll suddenly stop and say “STOP. HAWK! Starrrrrrrt loooooooking……”

Within seconds a hawk will fly by us all and those not used to my weird Doolittle ways will wonder how on earth I’ve managed to do what I’ve just done!


The answer is straightforward though. Forty odd years arseing about in the countryside looking at and listening to things.


For various reasons (some a blessing, some a real curse) I’m FAR more aware than anyone I know (I’m hyper-aware – always have been) and because of my interest in natural history, I’ve taken the time (LOTS of time!) to learn what some birds sound like so I know what’s around me without actually seeing any of it.


I’ve been able to show people hawks and kingfishers for decades now, purely by keeping my ears well and truly pricked whilst outside. Goldcrests have been a relatively recent addition to my repertoire (last 5 years I suppose) and in the last three weeks, I can add horny nuthatches to the compilation album.


Yes… it’s important to use your eyes, but in many cases, that only comes after using your lug ‘oles.


Use your ears, grapple fans. Then your eyes.

]]> (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) ears goldcrest kingfisher nuthatch sparrowhawk Tue, 18 Apr 2017 16:10:19 GMT
800 yards of ‘mac. 6) April. 6 months in.


I know, April isn’t six months in to a calendar year is it, but as I started “800 yards of ‘mac” last November (not this January), we are indeed 6 months into this 12-month long project – halfway through!

Previous 800 yards of 'mac blog posts can be found by clicking the links below:

800 yards of 'mac. 5) March.

800 yards of 'mac. 4) February.

800 yards of 'mac. 3) January.

800 yards of 'mac. 2) December.

800 yards of 'mac. 1) November.


There were quite a few signs of life stirring in March along the 800 yards, but April has brought with it a veritable explosion of activity, as it always does.

The flowers have erupted from the road verges (mouse ear, bluebells, wood anemones and celandines in photographic order below)

The trees/bushes along the 800 yards have either blossomed and are now beginning to leaf (blackthorn in the photo below with my old car) …

…or started to bud and leaf in earnest now, like the huge, gnarled oaks (see photo below with my new car in the distance) which line the 800 yards and give the bigger birds (owls, woodpeckers, jackdaws etc) somewhere to rest and perhaps nest.

I love the appearance of blackthorn (sloe) blossom. It coats our hedges all over the country in April, and is never hidden by foliage as happens with its sister, hawthorn. Someone has given each blackthorn bush or hedge a thick dusting in icing sugar I think each April, a dusting which only seems to last about a week, but a spectacular week it is, each April. As soon as an April wind blows, the blackthorn blossom gets blown off the hedges and bushes and it feels like you’re walking or driving through light snow when that happens.

Enough of plants – what about the animals along the 800 yards?

Well… the barn owls are still in their hollow stump. I mention this with a little caution as for about 10 days (up until yesterday in fact and I write this on the 13th April), I thought they’d left as I’d not seen them since the first few days of the month.

To be honest I expect them to leave for the summer. This has happened before – I see a barn owl in this stump all winter and as soon as the breeding season properly starts – it disappears for months. The stump is not a great spot to breed and raise young (as it’s RIGHT on the road) so I’d almost prefer it if they did leave to raise a family.

That all said, I’ve not seen BOTH owls in the stump for some time now. I assume they’re still together (I don’t think owls would pair up in such a spot (surrounded by other, very suitable roosts) if they weren’t intent on mating) but I’m not 100% sure.

Anyway… I know at least one barn owl is still in the stump and I assume both still are -  in which case there’s now a chance the female is sitting on eggs perhaps?!

The photo below shows the 800 yards at night – a time when I’m often driving or walking down it, looking for owls.

I’ve located yet another barn owl in the area on my “wildlife drives”, but not on the 800 yards itself. About a mile away from the stump, in a new, large, owl nest box put up quite deliberately (it looks like) to attract barn owls. The box is quite well hidden (about a quarter of a mile away from a road) but my eagle (owl?) eyes spotted it a few days ago, I watched it at dusk and sure enough, out flew a barn owl! Rather like the stump owl(s?), I’m not sure if there was another owl sitting on eggs at the bottom of the box – but I only saw one leave the box at dusk. Anyhoo, great news and I think that makes FOUR barn owls I’ve found in the local countryside near our house in the last five years – not bad going.

Back to the 800 yards now and whilst I haven’t seen the little owls for a month or two (although I think I know where they’ve gone too!) I’m happy to say that a pair of kestrels have set up shop in one of the nest boxes just off the road. In the photo below you’ll have trouble making out the kestrel in the shot (it’s the female and its sitting in the middle of the top of the cattle shelter) but you’ll just have to take my word for it.

Pretty little falcons, kestrels, once very common indeed but now far less so – so I’m more than happy to drop little owls this year for a pair of dashing falcons – I may even get ‘round to filming these birds this year (rather than little owls) if they stick around.

The video below was shot about 5 years ago by me, and shows a female kestrel (perhaps the current bird) mobbing one of the adult little owls I was filming at the time, on top of the same cattle shelter. Watch the whole (very short!) video as I've slowed the last part down to 10% speed to clearly show viewers both the owl and falcon.


Back to the photo above that short video clip from five years ago and I'm sure the eagle (falcon?) eyed amongst you will have noticed two roe deer in the image - although you’ll now be hurt to hear that actually there are three deer in that shot and your eyes aren’t as good as you thought they were!

The roe deer are always around the 800 yards of ‘mac and I always enjoy gazing at them. I still think they’re the most beautiful wild mammal in Britain. It’ll only be a month or two and the deer will be dropping foals into long grass in fields near the 800 yards, after about 5 months of gestation.

The buzzards are still around the road too – picking off something tasty from the first few of the 800 yards in this video, shot a couple of days ago, from the car.

April 11th 2017 gave us the April full moon, or pink moon as some people call it. Not because its pink in colour in April (although the photo below of the full moon, shot from the 800 yards of ‘mac, indeed shows a pink(ish!) moon) but because the April full moon coincided in North America with the blooming of (pink) wild ground phlox, or pink moss.

Other people call the April full moon the “egg moon” – for more obvious reasons and once again, along the 800 yards of ‘mac, in this month, life seems to be being re-born, everywhere I l peer.

Even the resident honeybee colony, which has been present in the same hole in the same tree along the 800 yards is being re-born at present. Not in the same knot-hole as they’ve been for the past five years, but now, weirdly, at the base of the same tree, in amongst the brambles. I can’t see an opening into this tree (which is FAR from dead) at the base of the tree, but I assume these bees have found one. I do hope they stick around, although I can’t help thinking they’ll move off when these very thick brambles grow and leaf properly, effectively making their entrance and exit flights from their tree-based colony far more difficult and energy-consuming. We’ll see.

Finally, in this April update, I’ve noticed several female toads on the move across the 800 yards of ‘mac, too. These will be the big females that have laid their strings of spawn in traditional breeding ponds in and lakes in March and are now hot-footing (well… crawling slowly) back to their woodland homes. (Toads are creatures of woodland really, not ponds). Do keep your eyes peeled for these lovely wee things – they may have done their bit for the circle of life, but it’d be a real shame to die on the way back to their wood, under one of your Bridgestones, eh?

OK, that’s all for April. I’ll try and establish whether we still have two barn owls in the stump, I’ll keep my eyes on the breeding kestrels, foaling-deer, nesting-buzzards and relocating-bees and catch you again for the May update of “800 yards…” in a month.

Before then 'though - and if I get 'round to it, I'd like to briefly blog twice - about nuthatches and the importance of listening when watching (or seeing!) birds and also a review of my new car (traditional on this errr... "wildlife blog" it seems).

Catch you very soon.

]]> (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) 800 yards of 'mac barn owl bluebell buzzard celandine honeybee kestrel mouse ear roe deer toad wood anemone Thu, 13 Apr 2017 07:03:14 GMT
Full (frame) circle. I first started taking photographs in the late ‘80s with a second-hand Olympus OM-10 film camera (ahhhh film… those were the days!).

This was a “full frame” (of course, as it was a film) camera, meaning each film frame was 24mm by 36mm.

To be honest, shortly after buying that old, second-hand camera and taking shots of a few birds and stars (I distinctly remember taking shots of the Andromeda Galaxy with it) I probably discovered the err… non-feathered type of birds and headed off to University, having sold my Olympus OM10 for beer money I expect.

I don’t think I took up photography again in any serious way until the noughties, at about the time I hooked up with a woman called Anna, who’s now my (long-suffering) beautiful wife.

We lived in London for a short while, but it wasn’t until we moved to Reading in about 2006 (we've since moved twice) that I thought I’d like to learn as much as I can about invertebrates (I’m not sure why) so used my old Sony Ericsson Cybershot mobile phone (certainly not a smart phone!) to take photos of everything and anything six or eight-legged I saw and then document all my findings on various blogs (especially “Blue-Grey” in 2007).

The Sony Ericsson phone had a pretty good camera for an early camera phone, with “macro” capability (even though strictly speaking it was far from 1:1 macro) so it made a quite portable camera for someone like me.

The shot below was probably one of the best I took with my Sony Ericsson mobile phone in our garden.

In 2008 I contacted a fellow wildlife-enthusiast, Mark, via a website called “Wild About Britain” (which I would like to recommend, but can’t (at all – it was a bleedin' awful site)) to ask him about the camera that he used to take shots of his local wildlife (I remember some exquisite photographs of red squirrels and roe deer he’d taken).

Mark got me thinking about Panasonic Lumix Bridge cameras and I bought three eventually – an FZ20, an FZ30 (off Mark himself) and then finally in around 2010, an FZ50, which I still use regularly today and still regard it to be the best bridge camera ever made, at least by Panasonic, if not any company.

These little bridge cameras were SUPERB (mainly thanks to their fixed Leica lens) and I don’t think I’ll ever get rid of my FZ50 – if for nothing else, its macro capabilities with a dirt-cheap (£15) Raynox DCR 150 filter clipped onto the end of the fixed Leica lens.

The combination of Raynox, Leica and Panasonic meant I completely maxed-out this camera’s capabilities. I pushed the tiny Panasonic Bridge cameras to their maximum capability and then some.

The Panasonic bridge cameras I so loved were limited in two (main) ways – 1: the battery life was abysmal (I could take perhaps 100 photos with a fully-charged battery if I was lucky) and the ISO (digital “film speed”) performance and IQ (image quality) was truly awful. Bear in mind that the digital sensor in these Panasonic bridge cameras is about THIRTY TIMES SMALLER than the full frame of each frame of film in my old Olympus OM10 (therefore perhaps thirty times LESS light is hitting the digital sensor of the Panasonic bridge camera as hit the film of the old Olympus OM10)!

That said I’d always recommend bridge cameras to interested parties – and have done twice, relatively recently. They have two main limitations but many more pluses!

There are MANY shots still on this “DmackDimages” website which have been taken by me using the Panasonic bridge cameras (almost certainly the FZ50 or perhaps my first Panasonic, the FZ20) and indeed I won awards for several of my Panasonic bridge shots. It was always nice that, to turn up to awards ceremonies knowing that I was the only one there (or one of the very few) who had taken their winning or commended shot on a cheap bridge camera, whereas 99% of everyone else had used a “proper” DSLR and expensive lens costing perhaps thousands and thousands of pounds!

BWPA highly commended 2009 - Feather-footed flower beeBWPA highly commended 2009 - Feather-footed flower bee

BWPA acknowledged 2010 - cabbage white butterflyBWPA acknowledged 2010 - cabbage white butterfly

I did feel slightly limited by the two drawbacks of the Panasonic bridge cameras though and so decided to buy my first DSLR in about 2010 or 2011 – a second-hand (again!) Canon 40D with an expensive lens (a 70-200 F4 IS).

At the time, everyone around me (well… those that were getting into photography) seemed to be buying the Nikon D90 but true to form I chose my own path. I did so primarily because despite the Nikon D90 sensor being clearly better than the sensor on the Canon 40D (and therefore the IQ was better on Nikon images than Canon’s), the Canon “ecosystem” (as they called it, the lenses and accessories etc) was far cheaper and far more comprehensive – at least in terms of things I saw myself needing in the future to keep my interest in photography keen.

I’ve spent perhaps five years or so taking photographs with my 40D and added 2 more lenses to assist in that process - a 10-22 wide angle lens and a 50mm f1.8 portrait lens.

During those 4 years, my expensive 70-200 F4 IS lens has broken (I’m sure it’s fixable – I just haven’t got ‘round to sending it off to Canon yet) but the rest (other than the FZ50 and FZ20) of the shots (as I type) on this website are almost certainly taken with the 40D DSLR.

It is a great DSLR albeit a bit long in the tooth these days and was a great introduction for me into “proper” digital photography. It also produced another award for me in 2011 with, to this day, my most controversial shot.

I used to be known (in photography and wildlife circles) as a “macro photographer”, but for a while at least I was instead known as the bloke who’d taken that tabby cat and blackbird shot as well as that bloke who took that shot of the flying white bat shot. Both these shots are on this website and both were taken with the 40D and the 70-200 lens.

BWPA highly commended 2011 - Tabby cat with nestlingBWPA highly commended 2011 - Tabby cat with nestling

Heavily leucistic batHeavily leucistic bat


The IQ of the 40D was certainly a HUGE step up from the Panasonic FZ bridge cameras I’d been using (because of the sensor that was over eight times as large!), as was the battery life (I could get perhaps 1000 shots from one battery charge instead of 100 if I was lucky). I added a battery grip to the 40D (see the shot below) which as well as unfortunately increasing the size and weight of the camera, also increased that battery life to perhaps a full week of heavy shooting – I’d have had needed 15 or 20 batteries in my old bridge camera to have matched that!

A few things made me think I needed to upgrade from my Canon 40D.

The first was on holiday in rural Turkey (a few years ago now) when I wanted to take shots of the milky way – and did so – but found that even with a sensor eight and a half times as big on my 40D as my old bridge cameras, I couldn’t quite do what I’d envisaged. Or not easily anyway.

The second was having my first child (well. my wife having our first child… you know what I mean!) which meant I was often wanting to take indoor or low light shots of humans (or a baby!) without flash etc, rather than sitting in a hedge for a day with a lens trained on an owl roost, or taking macro shots of butterfly faces etc - I didn't (sadly don't!) have time for that stuff any more!

Last December I took the shot below of our son with his 4th birthday cake, lit only by one candle in a dark room, without a flash (I knew what effect I wanted and a flash was out of the question). Now the 40D or any APS-C camera (with a sensor about 2.5x smaller than a full frame camera) is really not designed for taking such images. Several of our friends after seeing that image have remarked on “how good it (the shot) is” and how “I must have a very good camera”.  

Many photographers (pro or otherwise) will know exactly how I feel when hearing that sort of stuff. It’s not the camera that takes the shot – it’s the photographer – and with this shot below, I was pushing the old 40D to beyond what it should be capable of shooting. Five years of messing around on manual mode (I’m NEVER in auto mode on any DSLR) and the experience that gave me resulted in the shot below. Nothing else. But with a full-frame camera, the shot could have been SO much easier and SO much better, I think. Taking the shot below with a full frame camera would have meant 20 or 30 useable shots of Ben and the cake, from 20-30 shots. But at the time of shooting the image below, I didn’t have a full frame camera, I shot the photograph a good two dozen times and only ONCE did I get a useable shot – the shot below!

The third thing (making me really consider an upgrade) was the fact that full frame cameras (with sensors over two and a half times bigger than my 40D sensor) have been dramatically dropping in price over the past few years.

Ten years ago, you’d have needed a second mortgage to buy a pretty-basic full frame DSLR. Or you’d need someone to buy it for you (i.e. you’d have needed to be a professional photographer). But now, you can pick up a far more advanced full frame DSLR for a half-decent sum of money rather than an eye-watering sum.


I made the decision pretty quickly eventually and three weeks ago found an ad for a Canon 6D DSLR for a reasonable price just around the corner.

After seeing it twice, testing it in detail (looking at the sensor, lens codes etc) I decided to buy it (and the accompanying lens – a 24-105 F4 IS L) – so I’m now a proud owner of my second full frame camera. My second, as my first was my full frame film camera in the late ‘80s – the Olympus OM10. This is my second full frame camera then, but my first full frame digital camera.

I’m not going to review it here, at least not yet, as I’m still trying to get to grips with it. It may be a Canon DSLR but the “operating system” is a little different to my old Canon 40D so I need to again start to work out which buttons to press and when, without thinking about it – and that’ll take a wee while.

What I will say is that it is smaller and heavier than my old 40D (although bear in mind that in the photo below with the 6D in the middle and the 40D on the left, the 40D does have a huge great grip on it which makes it look HUGE), but probably far more capable.

Its sensor is over two and half times the size of the sensor on the 40D, it has twice as many pixels – and those two facts mean the pixel pitch or size of the pixels (SO important!) is markedly bigger on the 6D too. That said, it also has double the resolution of the 40D. It doesn’t have a built-in flash (I’ll have to buy an external flash then), doesn’t accept my old 40D CF card (so I’ve had to buy a new SD card) and won’t accept the old 40D batteries or battery grip (new ones needed again then!).

Full frame digital photography, which I suppose is what I’m doing from now on, when I’m not taking insect close-ups with the FZ50) is a little different to APS-C or micro 4/3 or bridge or point and shoot or camera phone photography. I’ll not be as zoomed in as I have been with my 40D and the depth of field on my 6D is very small indeed – but that’s a plus I think.

I’m going to have a lot of fun with my new (old!) camera and before too long, I’m sure I’ll be adding to the images on this website (other than images on blog posts) that are taken by me with my new (old!) 6D.

Perhaps Anna and I (and Ben this time!) can return to Cirali to take a proper shot of the milky way there– with my full frame camera (and a suitable lens which I’ve already identified!) giving me everything I need, this time.

Just maybe!

So…Thirty years ago I was pointing a full frame (film) camera towards the night sky and now, thirty years on… I’ve gone full (frame) circle and will be once again pointing a full frame (digital) camera towards the night sky.





NB. At the time of writing this blog post, the zenfolio-based website seems to be experiencing all manner of problems, meaning you'll not be able to see some of the images on this blog post or indeed this website. Apologies on behalf of all at Zenfolio for a pretty poor service at this time.

]]> (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) 40D 6D Canon FZ20 FZ30 FZ50 OM10 Olympus Panasonic Sony Ericsson cameras Sun, 19 Mar 2017 15:00:17 GMT
800 yards of 'mac. 5) March  Pairing up.



We’re now racing towards the light (of Spring) at the end of the (Winter) tunnel* and it’s all happening along the 800 yards of ‘mac.

*Which may explain the seemingly random photo on this blog's header page?

Truth be told, I’d noticed the honeybees take their first shaky late-Winter flights (from their home in a tree halfway along the 800 yards) in the last week of February but now they’re emerging in good numbers. One assumes they’re getting their scran from the earliest of flowers – crocuses etc.

The honey bees have been living in this tree for at least 5 years now (my eagle-eyed wife spotted them first a few years ago on a drive-by) and don’t look like leaving any time soon. I’ll get a photo in the Spring proper (or perhaps Summer).

I've NOT been noticing the omnipresent (for months now) flocks of fieldfare at the farm and alongside the 800 yards of 'mac, so it's fair to say they all hopped on those strong westerlies in the first week of the month and started hot-footing it back to Scandinavia to pair and breed. Always a little earlier to depart than their daintier cousins, the redwing - but they're off quickly now too. Very often I will hear and see the last redwing head orf East on the same day as I see my first swallow of the year (invariably the last few days of March if I'm lucky and looking).

The bullfinches that are often hidden in blackthorn bushes along the 800 yards have paired up too, although to be truthful again, if I had to name one “songbird” that I ALWAYS see in pairs (at any time of year), rather than singly or in flocks, I’d say bullfinches. They’re spectacular birds (well… the male is anyway) and I’m always pleased to see them, especially as I still work with a few old boys who were PAID to SHOOT THEM (paid by the finch as it ‘appens) in the ‘60s (as they stripped orchards of their buds, so they did).

The larks are starting to pair up now – the males are rocketing into the blustery late-Winter skies and parachuting down towards the stubble, belting out their joyful song as they do, with a view to attracting a mate ASAP. Breeding is a risky activity at the best of times, but if you’re a male lark, fannying-around in the sky, singing non-stop – then you’re just ASKING to be predated by a passing merlin etc.

Below is a clip of Vaughan William’s lark ascending which I like to listen to occasionally at this time of year – it gets me motivated to go and hear the real thing.


Below is a video I shot with my phone (apologies for the poor sound quality) of one of the larks alongside the 800 yards of ‘mac, doing its bid-nid. Again, I’ll try and get a better video as Spring progresses – the eagle eyed amongst you may just spot this randy skylark as a fluttering dot in the sky, in the lower middle of the video frame.

Another bird that I often see along the 800 yards of ‘mac is the red-legged partridge, or Frenchman. I’ve not seen any partridges for what feels like years but is probably months on the 800 yards, but this month I’m seeing them more and more – and all in pairs already!

Below is a video at least in part of a Frenchman getting all pissy with my trail camera when I was filming the breeding little owls alongside the 800 yards of ‘mac five years ago.


Owl (and partridge!) watch - 20th June 2012

It’s also nice to see (as I did yesterday) the most beautiful wild mammal in Britain pairing up in the hedges surrounding the 800 yards of ‘mac. Two stunning roe deer (a young buck and a doe) froze in a field as I walked by yesterday and I’m always bowled over by their beauty.

So… the deer and partridge are pairing up. As are the larks and the bullfinches. Even the winter thrushes are off en masse to pair up back in Scandinavia now. But there’s one other bird that’s paired up in the last few days… and I am VERY excited about this pair, in particular.

I’m regularly walking up and down the 800 yards of ‘mac as a warm down (well… cool down I suppose) after my cycling reps which are meant to make my buggered back stronger. These walks often happen as dusk falls. The video below shows one such walk along 600 yards of so of the 800 yards of ‘mac and was shot in the first few days of March.

At the end of February, I was on such a dusk walk and I became very aware of two barn owls chasing each other down and across the road and around the fields by the 800 yards of ‘mac – right in front of me.

Now I’ve seen THREE barn owls at one time on this road and seen two roost together in their favourite hollow tree a few years ago, but the sight and sound of two ghostly owls on the road that evening (sound really… it was too dark to see much) was superb.

Fast forward a few days and a walk past the barn owl’s favourite roost (I know of at least FOUR hollow trees they roost in along the road but this one is their fave) and I saw TWO barn owls peering out from their secret hidey-hole!

This IS SUPERB NEWS! I assume that if two adult owls start roosting together in March, they are looking to breed? I add the question mark as I certainly have seen two barn owls in this roost before and they didn’t breed then. NB. Barn owls tend only to breed just ONCE in their life – and I’d written this particular barn owl (that frequents this hollow tree on the 800 yards of ‘mac) off as a has bred, won’t breed again, at least two years ago. But was I wrong? Are we about to have baby barn owls on my 800 yards of ‘mac? I hope so!

Please note – I’ve been asked before for photos and videos of the barn owls that I follow. I’m not going to take any (and therefore not going to show you any!) as the barn owl is a Schedule 1 bird, which means you need a licence to photograph or film them, especially at or near their roosts. Now I could obtain a Schedule 1 licence for these barn owls I expect but for now, I just want to watch, from a distance and give them every chance of raising a family, if that’s what they intend to do.

Cross your fingers and toes grapple fans – and hope that I was indeed wrong about the barn owl that I’ve followed for years on this road being an old dog – a non-breeder.

More… I hope… on this in April’s edition of 800 yards of ‘mac.

Catch you in a month....


]]> (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) 800 yards of 'mac barn owl bullfinch red-legged partridge roe deer skylark Tue, 14 Mar 2017 06:30:00 GMT