Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images: Blog en-us (C) Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images [email protected] (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) Sat, 20 Apr 2024 07:19:00 GMT Sat, 20 Apr 2024 07:19:00 GMT Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images: Blog 120 86 We're not done yet! Contrary to what I wrote on this blog twelve days ago, here, it seems we still have swifts overhead!

We saw two on the 26th of August - circling over our house for at least an hour, at around 1930hrs... and another last night (on the 27th) at about the same time.

Now, the latest I've ever seen a swift (other than a pallid swift of course) in east Berks, was on September 5th, about a decade ago.

Well... we're only just over a week out from that late date, this year.

And on closer inspection of the photos I took of the two birds circling our house for at least an hour on the evening of the 26th, you'll see one of the birds (the one with a slightly skew-whiff secondary wing feather by the look of it) has what is clearly a swollen throat - full, I'm sure of many midges etc it is catching and pressing into what is known as a food "bolus" to take back to its young.

So... we have adult swifts still hunting for aerial insects and taking these hundreds of insects (pressed into a bolus in their throat pouches) back to young - in late August!

That's pretty amazing - something I've not seen before so late in the year. I guess they were a fortnight or so late in arriving - and we've had a pretty mixed season, weather-wise - so that might explain it I suppose.

I wonder where these birds are bringing up their young? I don't think it would be south of here, but I'm pretty sure it isn't in the immediate vicinity.

I guess I'll never know.

But what I DO know is that I'm very happy INDEED to still be watching breeding swifts in East Berkshire in late August!

Photos below (cropped an awful lot... these birds were flying well above the house, feeding). You'll see the bird's swollen throat pouch (and a comparison with its mate in the last photo - note the non swollen, pale throat).

[email protected] (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) swift Mon, 28 Aug 2023 11:41:57 GMT
The lucky ones, 2023. For me (this may change of course - I HAVE seen one pass over this house south in the first week of September before) the final fourteen swifts of 2023 all danced high above our house, in cloudy, gloomy skies at dusk on 3rd August 2023. Around our house, that is.

I did see two or three swifts on the Isle of Wight, but none after the 6th August I think.

Of course, last year I saw my last 2023 Berkshire swift on the 16th August (the day I write this a year later), so you never know - there may be a few Northern birds pass over our Southern garden in the next few days - they certainly did seem later leaving here than normal (I rarely see so many swifts in Berkshire in August as I did this year, even if it was just the first week of August). Then again, they were nearly ten days later arriving, in the unsettled start to May, remember?

Well... we've had a pretty good year for swifts this year at "New Swift Half". Plenty of prospecting from young birds and plenty of interest in the house (especially from the 3rd wave of visiting young birds)  in a mixed season, weather-wise (sunny and hot 2nd half of May and June - and a WASHOUT July).

Will we see "our" birds return next May? God, I hope so.

Will they breed across the road again - as they certainly did this year, successfully too by the look of the return flights to the nest spot in the first couple of days of August this year. Surely they will, after I managed to successfully delay the roofing project from destroying this red-listed species nest site.

Will they dry run with us? Or even breed in our house?

I remain hopeful. Always will be.

For now though....

I wish all the swifts nothing but good luck during their migration south and their winter sojourn in their proper home continent, Africa.... and as is traditional now, I play them my swift song (below) which I play each time they leave and each time they return (the lucky ones that is). 

Please do also listen to it  too - and think of these wonderful wee chocolate brown birds, arrowing back to the Congo like tiny bows and arrows right now, in their hundreds and thousands. 

Be safe you beautiful swifts - and roll on May 2024.



[email protected] (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) apus apus swift swifts the lucky ones Wed, 16 Aug 2023 14:40:24 GMT
The most precocious of yearlings - the squadron leader. 3rd wave swift activity around the house is still going strong. Frantic even.

We are visited multiple times a day now by at least one squadron of swifts, with one individual in particular, being noticeably more keen to investigate our main swift entrance hole - more so than its other members of the squadron.

I took a few photos of this bird this morning - and the photos are of sufficient quality and show sufficient detail for me to confidently state that this individual is a yearling  - that is to say it will have been born last Spring (perhaps late May or early June), and probably not too far from here.

It will have dropped out of its nest space at the end of last July and probably* not touched a surface since, until coming back to the UK to lead a squadron of screamers (and copycat-bangers) and prospecting swifts around this particular neighbourhood, in quite African weather (which is what, effectively it has been used to, spending the last 8 or 9 months in the Congo and sub Saharan Africa, after all).

*'Probably' as now swift experts believe young swifts may well cling to cliffs etc, temporarily, in periods of poor weather while in Africa - this has not been documented but is postulated after looking in detail at ringed-birds' toenails (yes... "toenails" NOT claws) which seem to get shorter during their time in Africa, suggesting they're being worn down by something other than air.

This squadron leader is certainly part of the 3rd wave of swifts - a wave which consists mainly of one year old birds - still perhaps two or even three years off breeding for themselves - but very much here to learn the ropes, so-to-speak - and join in the summer party.

Below are a couple of photos of this bird, this morning.

In the second, you'll clearly see light-tipped wing feathers (I've helped you out if you still can't see them) and a very extensive, pale throat patch. All swifts have pale throats but the yearlings exhibit large, almost white throats it seems.

All clear signs that this is a young or immature bird.

This squadron leader is also the one with very fluffy "pyjama bottoms" as described in my last post. "Summer air shows".

I'm, no... we're... thoroughly enjoying these birds with us this year. And yes... it may be a couple of years before they actually breed with us (if they survive that long - and chances are they may well not).

I hope you're enjoying them too.

Four or five more weeks and they'll be gone.


[email protected] (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) Apus apus swift swifts third wave yearling Sun, 25 Jun 2023 09:33:20 GMT
Summer air shows The third wave of swifts has arrived in full force right now in Berkshire - and are putting on a SUPERB show around our house.

Below are just some of the many images I've taken of these glorious birds, just in the last two or three days.

I'm even getting to know individuals now, by looking at these photos and watching these birds as I take the photos.

I can start to tell the difference between individuals.

One has scruffy pyjama bottoms on and is the most keen to explore the swift opening that I've built in our wall.

One is much neater and comes in from a height strangely (and not very well).

One seems to have a face-full of tiny mites.

One has pretty beaten-up primaries and tail feathers.

One is particularly vocal.

One has a very pale throat.

One has a MUCH darker throat.

I'm thoroughly enjoying this June - perhaps the best June yet (in what, eleven now) for these wonderful, wonderful birds here with us.

Enjoy them while they're here, eh?

For before you know it, the end of July will be here... and the swifts will be off.


[email protected] (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) Apus apus Swift Swifts Fri, 23 Jun 2023 08:52:02 GMT
Where's wally? I used to occasionally blog these sort of posts.

Giving you a shot of a seemingly empty view... and asking you to find something(s) of interest in the photo.


Here are two photos.

Taken in the last few days.

In our garden.

Nothing to see in these photos, right?


Try and find one item of interest in the first photo (relatively straightforward) and then TWO in the second photo (far harder).

NB. The answers will be at the bottom of this blog post - no cheating!



































Keep scrolling for the answers...



























Keep scrolling!
























Photo one shows a lime hawk moth.




And photo two shows TWO hornet moths. For the VERY eagle-eyed...

[email protected] (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) hornet moth lime hawk moth Tue, 13 Jun 2023 15:05:39 GMT
Batesian mimicry. Regular readers of this blog may already know that we're NOT arboriculturalists, so are happy to have a thriving colony of hornet moths in our back garden black poplars.

Every June these moths erupt from the subterranean roots around our biggest poplar in particular, break free of their pupal case and quickly climb up the tree trunk (or ivy frond, or long grass stem nearby) to pump out their wings and begin their short adult life.

The males will pump up their wings, get rid of a lot of fluids built up in their body during their time underground in the tree's roots and then fly immediately if possible to a newly-emerged female - to mate her.

The bigger females will pump up their wings and then start to emit pheromones into the air around them. Powerful things are these chemicals - and within minutes of emerging and starting to emit their pheromones, the females will be mated after a passing male (or more often than not, a recently-emerged male from the same tree, on the same day in fact) homes in on that chemical attractant.

Mating is a long, drawn out affair (two adult moths can be linked together for an hour or more).

Eventually the pair will break their abdominal bond, the female will lay her eggs on a suitable substrate nearby (often the same tree roots that she emerged from) and the male will disappear.

Like many insects, the vast majority of the hornet moth's life cycle is spent as a larva - two or three years in fact, as opposed to perhaps two or three days as an adult, winged moth.


We're lucky to see these beautiful moths in the garden each June. Very often it's quite hard to see the adult hornet moths (that is to say if you *don't* have a colony in your garden) as they pupate quickly, scamper up the poplar tree trunks, pump their wings up and fly up into the canopy lickety-split.

Hornet moths also really are quite picky moths. Not every black poplar hybrid tree will do. They tend to demand older trees, often on their own, in full sunlight with a lack of ivy or long grass or nettles around the base of the stump (so they can lay their eggs easily and emerge easily into sun). These sorts of trees tend to occur on private land (private gardens, perhaps parks and golf courses - that sort of thing - areas of land that have kept their black poplar hybrids and MOW around them each year).

We have such a big black poplar hybrid. Which they love. 

They'll kill it eventually of course, but we've been growing a few more now for a decade. These younger trees we've grown are as tall as the older, mother tree now (poplar spreads and grows quickly if allowed to).


Each June I am very aware that these beautiful moths will start to emerge from the roots in the back garden, so I put myself (and my eldest boy, often) on red alert.

On a suitable June morning, around 8am-9am, if the conditions are right, (warm, sunny if possible, a lack of wind if possible), they'll emerge. Sure as clockwork.

This morning I was working from home, in the dining room, from which I can see the back garden (through the conservatory).

I had done a quick recce of the tree around 9am and couldn't find any shed pupal cases - so went in and carried on with my work - vowing to check again in an hour or so.

But at half-past-nine, I noticed three or four loud magpies dancing noisily around the base of our biggest poplar.

I KNEW what that meant.

The moths were erupting from the ground.

Magpies and great tits, as it happens, take no notice of the Batesian mimicry of the hornet moths. They aren't fooled and LOVE to eat these plump, juicy insects.

The hornet moth's scientific name is Sesia (moth) apiformis (bee-like) - despite them looking far more like hornets and not bees.

The strange thing is (I think, anyway) is that this mimicry is sublime in hornet moths. I mean, not only do they look just like hornets, they buzz like hornets too and even dangle their legs when they fly - just like hornets. Clever birds, magpies. And great tits too!

So... out I ran. To the big tree. With a camera or two.

The below is what I saw...

Have a lovely weekend, grapple fans. I hope the forecast storms miss you (if you'd prefer that) or smash right into you (if, like us, you probably need the rain after four weeks without).



[email protected] (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) 2023 berkshire black poplar black poplar hybrid garden hornet clearwing hornet clearwing moth hornet moth june sesia apiformis Fri, 09 Jun 2023 16:46:19 GMT
The (particularly) lucky ones are back! The regular reader(s?!) of this blog by now, I'm sure, will know that I am besotted by swifts.

Infatuated with them.

Addicted to them.

Last year, here they returned to the skies above our house on 9th May - and spent a late Spring and early Summer prospecting and dry-running in the walls of the school opposite.

Trouble is, the school opposite was due to replace its roofs, during swift breeding season.

I contacted all parties (the school site manager and bursar, the contractors, the ecologist surveyors (who unbelievably had missed the swifts) and the council) and asked them to stop any building work until mid August at the earliest (which would give the swifts the time they needed to do what they needed to do (dry-run) and set off back to the Congo).

Work did stop thankfully - but only until August 1st - on that day the scaffolding went up around one of the buildings due to be re-roofed.

Luckily for the council and contractors (among others) the swifts had left a few days before.

Unfortunately then, we think the roofers discovered asbestos (we assume) in the school hall roof, so work stopped before it even began.

That said the scaffolding that went up around the school hall, stayed in place (even though no work was taking place) for a full EIGHT MONTHS!!!!

We also assume the council was paying the scaffolding firm for every day/week that the scaffolding was up.

What an incredible waste of money (and time) if so.

It gets worse.

A fortnight or so before the swifts were due to return (eight or nine months after they had left, like I say) re-roofing work recommenced at the school!

Let me be clear here. The roofers/council/school (we assume because of asbestos concerns... we could be wrong) took the ENTIRE time the swifts were away and out of the picture (9 months) to start work on the roof of the school.

I mean.... you couldn't make it up, could you?

Sadly, this sort of thing epitomises the English way of doing things. At snail-racing speed while soaked in incompetence and wilful ignorance.

Well... on 17th May here, 8 days later than last year, after a miserably cool and wet Spring so far, the squadrons of my favourite birds of all, the best birds of all of course, returned in numbers over the house and school and were met by one of their school buildings having no roof at all other than an industrial tarp over scaffolding surrounding it.

At their arrival back with us each year I play the song below...

This year is no different.

Please do play the video below, listen to it with your eyes closed and then get outside and gaze at the lucky swifts, (if you're lucky enough to see them).

An old work/rugby friend of mine contacted me the other day to let me know that his sister and brother-in-law (Gill and Simon Fenton) had a very close encounter with one of the best birds of all the other day.

In Gill's own words:

"This afternoon, this little guy got knocked out of the sky by a magpie and landed on our lawn. It lay there for hours, protected by us. We assumed it was a starling until it clung to the wall and we noticed 2 swifts flying overhead. So I spoke to my RSPCA friend and attempted the launch manoeuvre! At first, it flew straight onto Simon’s shirt and refused to budge! Eventually, it soared off, high into the sunset, joined by the others. I am an emotional wreck!"

What a lovely story, what fantastic photos (from Gill I presume) and what a particularly lucky swift to be knocked out of the sky in a garden that belonged to two people who cared enough to get it back into the air again!

Right then.

Back to "our" school swifts.

I have now witnessed 3 (yes THREE) swifts entering the old pipe overflow hole on the side of the school building that as yet is not being roofed.

Swifts may be social birds, but in breeding season it is strictly two birds per nest  - and fights between established pairs and interlopers (wannabes) regularly happen. Occasionally swifts can die as a result of these fights.

What I'm now certain of is that the school opposite currently have NESTING swifts.

And also a nesting pair with an interloper involved too.

A real avian soap opera, by the look of last night anyway... when two swifts entered the hole in the wall - then the third (after screaming at the hole on a few fly-bys) entered too.

I can only imagine a BIG fight happened at the school last night. In the roof.



Time to get serious now.

VERY serious.

Swifts are protected by law in and around their roost and nest sites, by the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act.

No... the roofers are not currently working on the building that these protected birds have returned to - but I understand from the old school site controller that the building the swifts are now nesting in WAS (IS?) due to have its roof replaced as part of the works.

You can imagine, grapple fans, I am ALL OVER THIS.

I have once again written to the school and contractors.

I have yet to have a reply.   I expect better.  MUCH better. 

I'll wait until this week and then contact the head of the school directly (I'm not going anywhere - my eldest goes to the school in question and my youngest is about to) and the council AND also, most importantly of all, Natural England (plus the BTO  and BBOWT) too, as well as my friends at Swift Conservation and the press.

We simply cannot have these protected birds disturbed in their breeding season.

There was never any need to do so (the work didn't start for the entire time (9 months) that the birds were out of the country - but it should have started AND ended in that time).


I can only hope that the school ARE already aware that their schedule 1 swifts are back and have already made plans to ensure that they don't break the law and the birds access to their nesting site is not compromised and therefore they aren't intentionally nor  (and this is important) recklessly disturbed).

I hope that, but I am not going to assume that.

We'll wait and see if anyone gets back to me this week.

I hope they do, as I am of course hooked up to the authorities already (my job has its uses sometimes!).

Watch this space for more news soon, I'm sure...

on the (particularly) lucky ones...



[email protected] (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) Apus apus swift swifts the lucky ones Sun, 21 May 2023 14:39:41 GMT
40 years on. Forty years ago, my family and new step family holidayed in Wales.

We travelled to the only wood at that time to hold any red kites in the UK. I think the UK red kite population back then was less than a dozen.

We didn't see any.

Wind the clock forward forty years and they're all over the UK.

So much so in fact, that we now have one landing in one of our garden trees - a favourite perch it seems, from which to call in potential mates.

I don't even have to leave the lavatory to see red kites now.

I wish this success story was the same for all our birds...


Puttock augmentationPuttock augmentation

(Photo of course taken by me, this afternoon. Canon 1Dx. 400mm f5.6 L lens. Hahnel Combi TF remote trigger. Camera and lens prefocused. I just pressed the trigger when I heard the kite calling from its favourite perch (I didn't even see it)).

[email protected] (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) 1dx 400mm berkshire garden kite milvus milvus red kite Thu, 11 May 2023 16:26:38 GMT
A few thoughts on results of recent wildlife competitions (BWPA and WPOTY). Regular readers of this blog may remember that I used to cast my (relatively experienced) eye over the winning images in the British Wildlife Photography Awards (BWPA) and the Wildlife Photographer of the Year (WPOTY) competitions each year.

The 2023 BWPA winning images were announced in Bristol last night and I thought I'd take a few minutes to look at a few of those images (spoiler... some make me uncomfortable... and not in a good way) and one commended "peoples' choice" image in the WPOTY, announced earlier this year.

Firstly then, the 2023 BWPA winning and commended images.

I was commended for several of my images in the first three years of this British photography competition, but found less and less time to take and enter images after those three years due to my sons being born for example... and to be frank, less and less inclination to enter, after it became pretty clear that the same professional photographers were winning categories each year, for less than stellar photographs in many of our eyes. 

Well... seems like ten years on, not a lot has changed. Ross Hoddinott is still winning awards each year for very pretty but very ubiquitous images of damselflies. We were taking images like this (some might say better images in fact) fifteen or twenty years ago. Hey ho.

Alex Mustard is still claiming winning/commended images for his underwater stuff. Good though it is, he is one of very few underwater photographers in the UK - and rather like Rangers or Celtic - if you end up winning every year, it all gets a bit tedious I think.

Andy Rouse, like Hoddinott, is still somehow getting his name mentioned as winner or highly commended each year for again, lilke Hoddinott, taking photos that many people were taking fifteen years ago and submitting every year alongside Rouse - and yet Rouse, Hamblin, Hoddinott, Danny green etc seemed to win each year. An anonymous competition? Nope. Never was.

Many of the images that won or were highly commended this year, seem at best to be the same sort of images as every year, (seal lying on beach, gannet fishing, a bee's face).

A bee's face?

Remind you of a certain commended image from FOURTEEN years ago (by someone you might have heard of?!).

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


Let's talk about the winning image. The photographer admits he was setting up a camera trap (or a remote release to be exact) but then suggests that he was there by the camera anyway, when the fox just ambled past (without even looking at him - my addition). Really?

Well look... that might have happened I guess... but to me, this photo REEKS of a staged, baited, camera trap photo. Urban life in the background, a pretty non-descript, messy foreground with tree stump and a low camera either triggered by the fox itself or triggered by the photographer, hidden somewhere very close by. I may be being unfair here, but to me at least, it appears that the photographer (a professional) knows about the understandable hoo-ha regarding winning wildlife photography competitions with camera trap submissions (you leave a camera somewhere hidden -the you bait the area with food, you leave, the animal. attracted by the bait, wanders in front of the camera and breaks an invisible infrared beam - the camera triggers, you get your winning shot).  I am pretty uncomfortable with this sort of image winning wildlife photography competitions for a number of reasons - the main one being the animal took its own photo.  The second reason being the whole area becomes a bit of a stage (and is altered to be a stage - more of that in a moment) But I'm even more uncomfortable with someone taking this sort of image and pretending they didn't.

And yes... I may be wrong. And if I am, I apologise. (I don't think I am, mind).


Let's continue with staged, baited camera trap images.

James Roddie makes a living from taking these sort of photos (among others, admittedly).

His Pine marten photo in "an abandoned cottage" makes me uncomfortable though too.

I would put some money on him stashing peanut butter or jam sandwiches under the cushions of this  *cough* "abandoned cottage". He has plenty of other photos of this marten exploring other parts of the cottage too, on his website.  Including indeed, even the lavatory pan of the cotttage. (The bait must be out of shot. Important that!).

Hmmmm. These then, to me at least, seem to be images designed to give the onlooker an insight into the secret, wild, hidden lives of these creatures.

I though, just see a stage. With a baited animal attracted to the stage. No real insight at all.

Again. I could be wrong. (I'm not!).


Remaining on camera trap images for a minute more - but moving competitions.

The image below was shortlisted for the "peoples' choice award" for the international Wildlife Photographer of the Year Competition this year.

What do you think of it?

Let's put it another way.

What do you think of it when compared to another image. An image you may well, *ahem* recognise?

BWPA highly commended 2011 - Tabby cat with nestlingBWPA highly commended 2011 - Tabby cat with nestling No contest is it? (I'll blow my own trumpet, even if you won't!).

And I took my photo myself, with my fat finger, unlike the Polish cat - which took its own photo.

Nope... I'm really not that fond of camera trap photos.

(By the way... the photo of the Polish cat taking a chaffinch into a dirty shed didn't eventually win the WPOTY peoples' choice award, thankfully).


Right then.

Back to BWPA.

Another commended image makes me particularly uncomfortable. Really, really itchy.

A shot of a bittern, hiding in a summer reed bed.

Taken with a drone. it appears to look like?! A drone with a wide angled lens on - which makes the bittern look tiny - and the reeds hugely tall.

I can't tell whether the camera (on the drone?) has a flash too - but it appears it might have. Not sure on that.

What I AM sure of though, is that generally speaking, bitterns overwinter here in the UK. The reedbeds in winter do not look like those in that photo.

Which means the photo was taken in the breeding season and NOT in the winter.

Which would mean that bittern is one of the few that actually breed in the UK each year (and as such would be highly protected from being recklessly disturbed by a photographer, let alone one with a drone). The bittern is a Schedule 1 bird. HIGHLY PROTECTED by law.

Well... either that or the bittern isn't in the UK. And if that's the case, it is an image not taken in the UK and therefore outside the rules of the BRITISH wildlife photography awards rules.

See why this image, more than any of the others, makes me really uncomfortable.

Hate it.

Hate the fact that the judges chose a photograph of breeding schedule 1 bird, deliberately disturbed by again, the professional photographer (Tom Robinson) as a winning image.

The welfare of the wildlife I photograph is of paramount importance to me. (A quote from the front page of my website - this website).

I doubt Tom could (nor should) write the same on his website. (Check it out - tell me I'm wrong).



Are you reading this and thinking I'm just vomiting up sour grapes again?
You shouldn't be - especially with regards to that image of the bittern.


There ARE some photos I love in this year's BWPA competition.


I love the moody highland stag silhouette shot.

I love the honeybees shot.

I love the glow-worm shot too (although... yes... the cans of gin are very errrr... handily placed in the image, aren't they?!)

What do you think though?






[email protected] (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) bwpa photography competitions wpoty Wed, 15 Mar 2023 16:19:49 GMT
December. (Munt) jac fox nipping at your heels. WARNING. THIS MONTH'S BLOG CONTAINS A PHOTO WHICH SOME MIGHT FIND UPSETTING. If this might be you, please skip this month's post.


The final month of the year then - and the final ever monthly update on this blog, I very much suspect.

To be frank, running a website costs money and time - both I have very little of these days, what with twelve years of corrupt crony capitalist tories subjecting us to austerity 1, brexit and now austerity 2.

I'm also far from convinced I have many readers left on this blog who truly are interested in my ramblings. Whether those ramblings be me finding an ichneumon wasp on our kitchen window in November or even a pallid swift over the golf course in October. But... look... if you really are keen for me to continue waxing (not so) lyrically about moths and hedgehogs and the odd bird - then please let me know in the comments that you're out there and it's worth me continuing.

OK. For now then, and possibly for the last time...

December then, which started a bit like a lamb. A cold lamb, mind. Which had already been sheared. The first week brought us proper wintry temperatures (sub 5 centigrade) a bit of an easterly air flow, and some overnight fogs, if not frosts.

On the morning of the 3rd, I as usual, took my pre-dawn 5 mile walk and happened across an old friend in the road, at least two hours before the sun came up.

(Before you ask, no it wasn't "crossing the road" - old readers of my blog will know I've been there and done that!)


Actually, whilst I love hens (having kept them for some years), it wasn't great news to see this particular bird out on its tod in the middle of the night. Bird flu is RIFE in the UK right now. Bird flu which has decimated (or worse, quite literally) many seabird populations (like gannets) across our shores since the summer, and now is moving through other wintering waterfowl like swans and geese. Indeed, the UK population of great skuas is threatened with extinction because of this dreadful disease - and if the UK's great skuas disappear - then the species might very well do also. 

So... yes... all domestic birds, including my old friend, should be kept completely and securely AWAY from wild birds currently. This hen on the road the other night was definitely NOT supposed to be there!


During the second and third week, December underwent what a radio presenter inadvertently (but accurately I think) called a "cold SLAP". Night-time temperatures got lower than minus six degrees celsius on a number of nights and hard frosts became a nightly occurrence. 

On the eighth, on my pre-dawn walk, I stumbled across a dead muntjac, which had (I presume) been clipped by a car, staggered 30 yards or so off the road in the freezing conditions, perhaps with a broken leg or pelvis and perished pretty quickly. When I got to it at around 6am, at the end of my walk, it was frozen pretty solid in frost and its hindquarters had been stripped to the bone by foxes - looking very big and fluffy in this cold weather, they were. Full of raw venison too, by the look of the below.

This (very) cold weather had its advantages. A lunar occultation of Mars (basically Mars seems to hide behind the moon for an hour or so) happened between 04:57am  and about 06:01am on the morning of the 8th. I got a reasonable photo or two, lucky in that there were no clouds at all over our part of the UK when this astronomical phenomenon (coincidentally an old nickname of mine) occurred.

This cold weather had more "advantages" I guess, too.

It was lovely to start seeing and hearing coal tits, goldcrests and wrens in the garden, as well as fieldfares rattling overhead. 

The bleeding cold weather did bring with it some disadvantages too though - and this is where the meat of this blog post will reside I think.

On the 7th of December, I set off for my pre-dawn walk at 04:50am and immediately almost tripped over a small(ish) hedgehog in our front garden, right by the hedgehog tunnel I'd drilled under our side door. The tunnel they'd been using for a few years now.

This was BRILLIANT news! The first hedgehog I'd seen in our front or back garden for almost exactly eight weeks! (See last month's blog post for that story).

It didn't take any food from our feeding station in the back garden that night (the night of the 6th/7th) and I discovered the next night (7th/8th) that it didn't remember or know how to get TO its food bowl (I make it cat-proof, so a hedgehog can only enter from one direction). 

But... a hedgehog HAD rediscovered our gardens AND was using out tunnels (again... please see November's blog post to read more on this story of or missing hedgehogs and neighbours' fences) and was TRYING to get some food from its old food bowl, but was denied that food by trying to get at the bowl from the wrong end of the tunnel.

The issue I (we, it) had of course was that most self-respecting hedgehogs would all be curled up in a tight ball, in a shed or woodpile or compost heap or what have you, during these very cold nights.

Ours though... was out... in HARD FROSTS and temperatures of minus five degrees.

It must be desperate I thought. Literally starving.

On the night of the 8th/9th, I rearranged the feeding station and videoed our hedgehog successfully eat about 50g of food during the night. At one point during the night, it even went to sleep ON the food bowl. (See short Youtube video clip below).

Bear in mind though, grapple fans, that it was again minus five that night. NO hedgehog should be out in those temperatures.

On the night of the 9th/10th I became very concerned about this small(ish) and desperate hedgehog which had finally managed to find its way back to our garden feeding station after 8 weeks or so of being trapped in a neighbour's garden.

Firstly, on that night (9th/10th December) it arrived four hours earlier than normal. We were all eating our tea in the dining room, with the wildlife camera monitor in the conservatory facing us. At 18:40 (ish) my wife, Anna, suddenly shouted "OH! Look!" and we all watched as this hedgehog suddenly appeared on the monitor and started to ravenously eat the food we'd put out for it.

Good... for now... although as I'd said before the previous two nights - there's NO WAY any hedgehog would be out for a few nights now as it's just TOO COLD! WAAAAAY TOO COLD!

It was great that this hedgehog was back eating at our feeding station, but now also really worrying that it was back eating at our feeding station in these temperatures.

It had 10 minutes of food then poddled off, THROUGH THE FROST... then returned... then walked off THROUGH THICKER FROST and this pattern was repeated for about an hour or so.

Regular readers of this blog may remember that my gorgeous and intelligent wife bought me a proper thermal camera for a recent birthday - THIS is the sort of situation where kit like that is invaluable. I used my HIK MICRO OWL OQ35 to follow the hedgehog around the frosty, -5C garden in the pitch black, without getting too close and without using a torch, to disturb it.

At around 9pm (ish) it became obvious to me that the hedgehog had simply stopped moving. It was exposed in the frost, NEAR my big woodpile (where it may have been headed - I don't know) in very, very cold temperatures. 

It wasn't curled up.

It wasn't moving (other than breathing).

It looked big and healthy enough to want to hibernate, but it just wasn't behaving like that. Something was up. Perhaps it was weak. Perhaps it was injured. Perhaps the cold had got to it. Perhaps it was being parasitized and its behaviour was therefore being altered.

Now my absolute golden rule with wildlife is NOT TO INTERVENE... but my wife Anna and I agreed that we would have no choice if it hadn't moved in 30 minutes  -  we would need to act. We would HAVE to intervene.

Well... it didn't move.

So We made the difficult (but ultimately sensible I think) choice to pick it up and move it into our empty chicken coop for the night (complete with nesting material, and food and water and even a hot water bottle in the dropping tray under the coop). I HATE caging wildlife, but if we hadn't acted, we had every reason to think that this troubled fella/lass would have simply frozen to death in the next few hours, where he/she stood.

I set up a trail camera in the coop and discovered the next morning that he/she had been walking around the coop and run for an hour or so during the night- and had eaten all the food  (about 50g again) we had provided and drunk quite a bit of water.

Hedgehog coop Dec2022 (for blog post)

Now, that all said, I really needed to call a proper expert for advice and perhaps an intervention or clinical assessment of this hedgehog - what on earth was it doing out in these temperatures and basically just remaining motionless in a frosty garden border?! Was it diseased? Injured? Or was it just the fact that its 'fattening-up' time during October and November had been constrained and delayed by our neighbours putting up a fence across its territory - and time had run out for it, despite me talking with our neighbours and re-digging tunnels?

I weighed the hedgehog and discovered that it seemed to be a relatively healthy (if not massive) 640g or so. (600g is often the weight that hedgehogs need to be to successfully get through hibernation) - so WHY wasn't it hibernating?!

My wife has a colleague, Clare, that I think has helped out at a local(ish) rescue centre, run by an excellent vet by the name of Hannah Tombs.

I gave Hannah a ring on Saturday 10th and dropped our hedgehog off with Hannah later in the day (Hannah is about 30 minutes away - I had our hedgehog in a box of leaves in the passenger footwell during the trip).

Hannah has a garage full of hedgehogs (30 or so!) and a few dove etc.

We established that our hedgehog was female firstly (I hadn't managed to do that really - although I suspected as much - see the first clip above - very often if its a male hedgehog and your footage is at hedgehog eye-level, you'll SEE the obvious penis of the male hedgehog - and clearly in this case, this hedgehog didn't have one. Yes... hung like a hedgehog isn't quite the slur you'd have thought it was!)

We also established that it was around 630g, perhaps losing weight still DESPITE having eaten 90g or so of food with us in the previous two nights.

I had speculated about some kind of endoparasite such as lungworm to Hannah over the phone, but I'm hardly the expert in this field - so Hannah sad she'd check her faeces (not hers Hannah's you understand, but hers the hedgehog's) out for lungworm larvae to see what was what.

Hannah gave her (yesss... the hedgehog) some fluid and electrolytes with an immediate injection and put her in a pen all night.

This morning (I'm writing this part of the blog on Sunday 11th) she texted me to say that our "girl" had eaten and taken water, put on a little weight AND had had one of her poos tested for lungworm.

Hannah did text me the next morning to tell me that she had found evidence of lots of lungworm larvae in our hedgehog's faeces and sent me a stock image of a(n adult as it happens) lungworm  - see above.

Now, as Hannah said, all hedgehogs tend to have a some sort of mild lungworm infection, but sometimes these nematodes flourish inside the lungs, bloodstream and gut of hedgehogs (not just hedgehogs either - read more on these nematodes here) and cause an issue - difficulty breathing, lack of energy etc. Our hedgehog seemed to have lots of lungworm larvae in her faeces, meaning she'd have to be treated.

Hannah said she'd start treatment immediately and monitor her progress.

I'm almost pleased, in a weird sort of way, that our poor female hedgehog has a parasite problem. Firstly it would explain a lot, secondly it means that she'll be treated to eradicate them from her system (moth hedgehogs don't get this treatment) and thirdly, whilst she is being treated, she'll be protected from these vicious overnight temperatures right now, in Hannah's garage.

How long will the treatment last? No idea to be honest. Perhaps a fortnight?

Will it be successful? No idea again (remember I'm writing this part of the blog on her first day at the vets).

If it is successful.... what happens next?

We'll get a call from Hannah to pick up our "girl" and release her back into her territory in milder temperatures I presume.

This is where I get a but twitchy to be frank. I'm often conscious of releasing animals back into the wild, into their old territories or not, and seeing them reacting badly, after being stressed by captivity or others in their "colony" (badgers especially) rejecting them.

I'm sure, unlike badgers of course, that the re-release of our "girl" will go well though if she gets better at the expert hands of Hannah. We're all set up for a release after all. It is her old territory (I assume they don't forget old territorial landmarks and routes after a week or two), we have an empty, cool (but not too cool) chicken coop to begin the release process, we have plenty of other more natural hedgehog homes and hibernacula (shed, compost heap, woodpiles) so I think we'll and she'll be OK.... as long as she responds well to treatment and we get to release her in more clement weather (not at minus five or six or even seven I hear tonight).

I also must remember to be more fastidious with my regular disinfecting of our hedgehog feeding station. I clean it very regularly but very possibly not regularly enough. I should move it more often too. Now its unlikely that my hedgehog feeding station caused this hedgehog to get overrun with lungworms (she's not been feeding with us for 8 weeks after all and I do clean our station regularly) but its things like this that we "wildlife lovers" often need to be aware of. Regular readers of this blog might remember I've written about this subject a number of times before.

More soon... (see * below).

On the night of the 11th/12th, a day after we dropped off our female hedgehog at the rescue centre, it snowed. Not heavily. But snow it did. An un-forecast snow too. I was suddenly even happier that we'd dropped off the hedgehog at the vets.

Well... the snow did what snow does - it looked quite pretty and gave me the opportunity to follow fox and squirrel footprints around town on my pre-dawn walk (can YOU see the squirrel tracks in all the fox track photos below?).

It was also nice to see my hastily-defrosted bird bath being used for once, by our local starling flock. My bird bath was originally put in place as a drinking tray for our hedgehogs, funnily enough - and certainly we've had hedgehogs drink from it regularly. We've even had frogs lay spawn in it once (bear in mind it's just an old rust-proof grill pan dug into the ground!). It's been in place for years now but not until the 12th December 2022 have I ever seen birds wash in it. I really was made-up when I watched a flock of ten or so starlings vigorously wash themselves in the bath on that morning!

The snow stayed around for six full days and nights - pretty-well unheard of in lowland, SE England in early-mid December (so yes.... not even in Winter!).

Finally on Sunday the 18th December, the northerly air flow which had sent temperatures plummeting all over the country to consecutive overnight lows of -8C here and sub zero during the day (freezing out washing machine pipes  and bursting water mains (see photo above) in the meantime) changed to a southerly - and we got two days of rain - and temperatures back into double figures here.

Quite a change. (I should point out that we don't live in Chelmsford, nor indeed Essex... this was just a BBC graphic on the TV, detailing the 20 degree warming the country would experience over two days).


Our local, young, female sparrowhawk put in an appearance on top of her favourite tree in the garden just before the snow disappeared. Anna (my wife for any new readers) spotted her first - I tried to get a few action shots, but shooting through dirty, double glazed windows, in very low light, with a crop sensor camera and a lens that doesn't appear to be very well right now, wasn't easy and the two or three photos below were the best of a poor bunch (and even these were out of focus).

I'm REALLY considering buying a second hand Canon 1DX to try and rectify this lack of speed and light in my cameras right now. More on that another day perhaps.


* OK... I'm writing this part of this blog post on December 27th - three days after we picked up our poor, lungworm-infested, female hedgehog (see above).

I got a text message from Hannah, the vet at Farnborough who I dropped off our hedgehog at two weeks ago, suggesting that as she had responded well to the lungworm treatment and had put on c.150g of weight, perhaps I'd like to come and collect her and release her back into her old territory (our back garden being part of that territory).

Ben (our eldest) and I drove down to Farnborough to collect her on Christmas eve, at dusk. Hannah explained that she had been tagged (see photos below) with a few yellow plastic sleeves glued to her spines, each with her number (H083) and Hannah's phone number, in case she was found again (dead or alive).

We drove her back home and popped her in the chicken coop nest again, to acclimatise to being back where she belonged. We opened the side of the chicken run and provided a ramp for her to make her way back into her territory proper, when she was good and ready.

It didn't take long, to be honest - no more than an hour in fact.

An hour after we left her alone, she made her way down the chicken coop ramp (inside the chicken run) and up and out of the chicken run (over a series of ramps I fashioned for her) and out into her old patch again.

I watched her on the thermal camera from a distance (and I could HEAR her noisily eating some crunchy stuff (a beetle or two at the back of our garden, in the undergrowth?), but very soon it was clear that she had left our garden and was exploring other gardens in her patch.

I recorded her on video (a trail camera) leaving our back garden through the side passage tunnel I had drilled through the concrete, at 03:10am on Christmas morning - and we've not seen her since.

Well... all I can say for sure is that we certainly saved her life in mid December. She'd have frozen if we'd have done nothing that night on the 10th. We may have saved her life for a year or two... and given her the chance to breed next Spring if we're lucky. We thought she had been spending her days under a shed up the road (see October's post) but perhaps now her main day bed (and hibernaculum now) is the other side of our land (nearer the main road). We certainly saw her leave that way and haven't seen her return, like I say, as I write this, on the 27th.

The weather has got a LOT milder since that blummin' cold COLD SNAP in mid-late December - I'm so glad she was in Hannah's garage during that period. 

Let's be positive.

Let's hope that within a night of freedom again, she, at 800g, decided that she knew her way around her old patch - and wandered off to her provisional hibernaculum. Let's hope she is safe and warm there - and stays there, wherever that is (under the shed up the road or nearer the main road somewhere out the front of our gardens) for the majority of the winter - and wakes up in March (or whenever) and finds her way back to our hedgehog (very)friendly garden for a slap up Spring breakfast. If she does, we'll recognise the plastic tags on her back.

Good luck H083. We hope to see you again in a few months!



Is there anything else to report in the last (ever) wildlife monthly blog of the year?

Not a lot, to be honest.

I took a few days off over the school Christmas holidays and the family (my wife and our two boys) had a lovely walk or two around the local lakes.

We all saw our favourite ducks there (those ducks would be the spectacular Goldeneye ducks (OF COURSE!)) but we missed one or two bitterns that were allegedly there too, hidden in the reedbeds.

The lakes' footpaths were well and truly flooded, what with all the rain we've had over the last week or so of the month - but it was lovely to get out anyway on Anna's birthday on Boxing Day, in beautiful winter sunshine.

We also took a drive or two around the local countryside, after dark, to try and spot a tawny owl - a common bird that up until the last few days of the year was missing from Ben's "2022 Around the birds in eighty aves" project. Luckily, on Christmas day (of all days!) all of us were in the car, driving through a spot where I have occasionally seen them in the past... and one flew across the road in front of the car, in full view... meaning Ben finished his "2022 Around the birds in eighty aves" project on 126 species - starting with a barn owl on the 1st January and ending with a tawny owl on  25th December! 126 species of birds in a calendar year is no mean feat I'd suggest - and a full 16 species MORE than last year. Well done Ben!


That shallot then, grapple fans.

We started writing about owls and goldeneye in January - and ended in a similar fashion, in December.

I hope you've enjoyed reading a few of my wildlife blogs this year - please, like I say, tell me (via a comment or contact here) if you have - and if I get a few nice comments or contact messages, I'll consider writing a few more blog posts next year (otherwise I'll probably leave it to be honest - or at least cut the frequency of writing right down to just a few times a year).

Whether this website, images and blog is ongoing next year, remains to be seen then - but even if it all disappears... for now... I, and my whole family here, wish you all a happy and prosperous future - beginning on January 1st 2023.


Happy new year all.

TBR and family.


[email protected] (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) bird flu chicken coal tit December fieldfare fog frost goldcrest goldeneye hedgehog hen lungworm snow sparrowhawk tawny owl wren Sun, 01 Jan 2023 09:00:00 GMT
November rain. Burnham beechBurnham beech

November started with a week of rain and mild temperatures. Very mild temperatures, to be honest and quite a lot of rain (although we and a lot of the country were still under a hosepipe ban for the month).

Pretty-well all the poplar leaves were down in the garden - and just like last November, a female sparrowhawk ambushed another collared dove in our garden, eating its breast muscles before I disturbed her (she flew off to eat in peace). 

Great big clumps of honey fungus seemed to spring up all over the place in the warm, wet, first week of the month.

On the 6th of November I noticed something I must have missed earlier in the year (or year before - difficult to tell). What appeared to be a wren's nest in the bottom of a lamp post (behind a loose plate) in an industrial estate on my daily walk. It's amazing where some birds will nest eh?

Sad news became apparent on the 9th and 10th of the month (albeit, tempered eventually with a little bit of hope).


I (as you know) have been logging and videoing and building hedgehog tunnels all over the borders of our garden and blogging about our local hedgehogs for over ten years now.

We live at property I in the plan below. (I live at "I". Easy to remember then).

All the tunnels I've dug over the last ten years can be seen as blue circles in the image below.

I've spoken with four of our neighbours (neighbours D,E,F and J in the satellite image below)  before mid-November this year, trying to help them learn about the marvellous (and now critically threatened) slug removers (hedgehogs) they have in their (and our) garden and when I open up a tiny wee hole under our fences, I'm doing it to allow these fantastic (and endangered now) animals to get around, feed and breed (and would they please consider keeping these hedgehog tunnels open instead of concreting them over all the time?!).

As I wrote in my October blog post, we've had hedgehogs visit our garden each night since the Spring like every year (in fact this year, for the first year ever, we had baby hedgehogs visit too - a HUGE success for us after ten years of "work"), but on October 16th these visits suddenly stopped.

We've had NO visits since that night... and it was only on November 9th that I realised that one of our neighbours (the "newest" neighbours on the "block" and also the most recent I'd spoke to regarding a tunnel that I'd dug between our and their property = that would be neighbours D in the image above and below) had erected a new fence to between themselves and their neighbours to their north (C). The pink fence in the image below and above.

A solid fence with concrete gravel boards sitting tight to a layer of concrete.

This (pink as opposed to yellow fence in the plan above and below) fence was put up on....

You guessed it.

October 16th.

With a horrible sense of dread, I realised that this simple action of putting a bordering fence in, with no thought at all to hedgehogs (even though I'd spoken to this neighbour not 6 months ago, regarding hedgehogs and even gave him a pen drive of videos of "our" (our and their) hedgehogs to show his children (all children are into hedgehogs, right?)) had at best trapped our hedgehogs in a small (but lovely) garden (C) to the north of his property for almost a month - and at worst KILLED THEM.

Luckily - and there is some good news here... it was beyond any reasonable doubt that the new fence had trapped "our" hedgehogs for 24 nights - so I went round to the house whose garden they were now trapped in. A lovely woman there helped me out, (C), and we have now dug a new tunnel under that new fence for the hedgehogs, which I have no doubt are sleeping under her parents' old shed in their rather lovely back garden.

I also dropped round some hedgehog food for C to put out for her animals - which I'm so pleased to say... was taken by the hedgehogs (C texted me to let me know)! They ARE still alive!

I also dropped round to our neighbours D (the neighbours between C and us) who erected that new concrete fence in the first place - they seemed OK in principle at least to keep the tunnels (plural) now that I'd dug under the fences (plural) now.

On the night of the 9th and 10th then, I desperately hoped the hedgehogs would find their way across their old stomping ground again - and as such I put up motion-activated infra-red cameras all over our garden.

Nothing. I'm afraid. No bananas.

But... as I wrote above ... C did text me to tell me that the hedgehogs had taken the food - so I hope, I really, really hope that now that I know they're OK... they do eventually find the newest tunnel that we've dug for them - and regain their old territory.

If they don't discover the new tunnel... like so many of our British hedgehogs, they will simply perish.

May take a month. Or three. Or even a year. But die they will.

And THAT is why, dear reader, whilst the population of UK hedgehogs in 1950 was estimated to be around 36 million... its now more like only 1 million.

We've lost 97.5% of ALL our British hedgehogs in 70 years.


Let that sink in.

Tellytubby gardens. Concrete gravel boarded fences. Fake grass.

It's SO sad.

As I type this part of the blog, it's the afternoon of the 10th November.

C has texted me to let me know that the hedgehogs have taken the food we left out for them.

The tunnel is still in place, I think.

We are INCREDIBLY lucky that the last 3 weeks have been warm and wet (meaning even in a small garden, especially if it's so lovely, like C's, the hedgehogs will have been able to find food and water).

We now just have to cross our fingers that the new tunnel doesn't collapse (and C and her neighbours maintain it) and the hedgehogs reclaim their old stomping ground soon. They have a lovely shed under which they can base themselves in C's garden - but they need FAR more space to roam around and feed in.


I popped round on the 12th, to ensure the new tunnel that C and I had dug was still OK (it was - thanks C!) and also managed to establish that C's Dad (the previous owner of the house) hac clearly noticed and catered for the hedgehogs that lived under one of his sheds, and even "installed" a hedgehog gate in the fence between C and B in the map above and below.

In summary - even though the hedgehogs had their southern and western territory (D,E, F, I and J) completely blocked off to them by the thoughtless (at best) actions of D, we (C and I) have re-established a route back for them into their southern and western hunting grounds (and with my tunnel under our side passage) a route back into the wider world, which I KNOW they have regularly used for 5 years or so now. The hedgehogs are OK, are feeding and would have had full run of lovely garden C with access to garden B (and even A possibly) in the map below.  So that does offer us some hope for these wonderful animals.

I expect it'll be some time after hibernation (so think April or so) before the local hedgehogs find their way back into their "southern territories" (D,E,F,J and I) ... but with C feeding them and hibernation coming soon... I think... I hope they'll be OK, despite the thoughtless actions of D.

More soon, I'm sure.



Away from the hedgehogs, what else?

Ben and I were treated to another very much needed sight of one of our two secret site barn owls at about 7pm on the night of Saturday 12th November and then again on Sunday 13th. We've become accustomed to watching these spectacular owls each year, but generally only in the late autumn, all winter and sometimes early spring, as... well... it's just too light in the evenings and mornings at other times of the year, and Ben is in bed very often (and not owl watching!). The last time we saw one of our local owls was (I think) on the 6th March this year (at least I KNOW we saw one then as I recorded it) so we haven't seen Ben's favourite bird in 8 months now. Quite a stretch and always a great relief to see them again in the autumn - and know that they're still around - we're so lucky to have them, so so lucky!

An old back injury flared up again in the middle of November for me, incapacitating me somewhat (to the extent that I couldn't even get in a car for a week or so). (I slipped 2 lumbar discs about 6 years ago in case you're wondering, a result of having spent my youthful working years walking around with 90Kg sacks of flour over my shoulders - ruining my back over time, and I've never fully recovered).

I hear goosanders and goldeneye are beginning to return to our local gravel pits for the winter, but I haven't yet been to greet them.

We do have a few "winter returners" though.

For 5 of the last 6 years, we've had a coal tit use our camera box to roost in each winter, but last year nothing did and this year it looks like we might have a male house sparrow do so instead.

As well as the male house sparrow, we also have a pair of starlings now roosting under our north eaves each night - turning up and bedding down so-to-speak, at around 1530hrs each afternoon and leaving in the morning around 0800hrs. I (of course) have a camera in our eaves too. Of course I do.

The month continued to be very warm really, for November that is, right up until the last day or two - and even then, it hardly became cold, just average at around 7 or 8C.

In the final week of November not only did Ben and his schoolmates find a hornet in their class (Ben explained to everyone that there was no need to be scared (well done son!) but you know what we Brits are like don't you, children especially, so everyone ran around screaming in his class I hear), but also I found an ichneumon wasp on the inside of our kitchen window. So I took a photo or two with my phone. 

This lovely wasp is Ophion luteus. An ichneumon which can be found flying around until the end of November, but not often that late. It lays its eggs inside the larval cocoons of noctuid moths - no... it's not a "nice thing" really - going around and endoparasitising the 'sleeping' larvae of overwintering moths, but there you go - it was nice to see, at least for me.

Finally, this month, we took a family walk around the southern part of Burnham beeches woods in Buckinghamshire. My back injury and the boys' weekend activities had kept us from visiting the woods a fortnight earlier, when we should have (mid November is the time to go to see beech trees at their most glorious in this part of England), but we did see some beautiful things on our walk through the dank drizzle. One or two beech trees which looked on fire (see the photo at the start of this blog post and at the end), some lovely turkey tail fungi (see below)... and most unexpectedly of all, a party of about 6-9 (difficult to count - they seemed to be everywhere!) FIRECRESTS!

Sure, goldcrests are EVERYWHERE in England. When you know what goldcrests sound like, you'll realise that they genuinely DO seem to be in every leylandii spruce or fir tree. Just this month in fact, we again have a male goldcrest singing his tiny heart out in our smaller leylandii trees beside the lavatory window (beauty and the beast and all that).

But firecrests? No. They're FAR harder to see and hear. In fact the last time I saw a party of firecrests (or ANY firecrest at all for that matter) was at the summit of Mount Ainos in August 2007.  My girlfriend at the time (we married a year later) and I had just (inadvisably) driven an original fiat 500 up the 1:3 slope of Mount Ainos and completely fried its radiator and cooling system. We nursed it to a dusty car park near the summit, let it steam there like a geyser (no exaggeration!) as we sat under a pine thicket, NOT drinking from our water bottles (we'd need them to refill the radiator when we returned) and watching firecrests around us. (And an alpine swift overhead, as it happens).

Yes... I'd not seen firecrests for 15 years until Sunday November 27th 2022 in Burnham beeches. I made sure the Bucks Birds News website (and therefore county recorder) was informed...

Wonderful, tiny things which fly like hummingbirds around holly bushes and the like, picking off whatever flying insects are still around. For a few minutes we felt like we were in a Disney film or something - with these lovely wee birds hovering around our heads - completely unfazed by us.

A note here, to anyone hoping to or wishing to see a firecrest. The most obvious thing by far, when seeing a firecrest, is NOT the firey orange-yellow crest (like a goldcrest). They (like goldcrests again) only tend to raise and display their bright crests when breeding or shouting at each other etc. No... the white supercilium (stripe above the eye) is how I quickly ascertained these were firecrests we were watching and not goldcrests.

A brilliant treat though - completely unexpected and what a way to lighten up a really quite miserable day, where we felt like we were wandering around inside a cloud for most of our walk!

Also another lesson to us (should we need it - we probably don't) that you don't get to see firecrests, or anything else for that matter, if you just lie o your sofa, dribbling at the TV.

Get up and out.

Even in the miserable, cold, dark, wet winter.

You never know what you'll see.


Burnham beechBurnham beech


[email protected] (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) barn owl Burnham beeches collared dove firecrest goldcrest hedgehog honey fungus house sparrow ichneumon wasp Ophion luteus sparrowhawk starling turkey tail fungus wren Thu, 01 Dec 2022 07:15:00 GMT
Pallid swift! Regular readers of this blog website may already know that Ben and I were lucky enough to watch what we're now convinced was a pallid swift, for a minute or so, over The Downshire golf club driving range at 16:22hrs exactly (I looked at my watch!) on 27th October.

I just wanted to give that sighting a little more attention than a few lines in my October monthly write-up, as well... I really think it merits it!

Firstly, I've never seen a pallid swift before - at least not knowingly and certainly not in the UK. I guess I may have seen them in Cyprus before (I certainly watched Eleanora's falcons chase hirundines  and apodiformes around that island in 1989 - I remember that well... so I suppose some of those hirundines or swifts might have been pallid swifts).

Pallid swifts breed on the Atlantic islands of the Canaries and Madeira, they are widespread throughout the European Mediterranean coastal regions and islands, including the Balearics, Sardinia, Corsica, Sicily, Crete, the Dodecanese and Cyprus. Additionally, they have breeding grounds in Gibraltar, north Africa, Israel, the Arabian Peninsula and Iran.

They do, very occasionally show up in the UK in late October, when, around the end of their 2nd brood (they, unlike common swifts, get to their nests nice and early in April and have two (not one) broods per year), they get hit by strong southerlies blowing up from Africa. Southerlies which push them 100s or even 1000s of miles north of their comfort zone - into northern European countries like Poland and the UK.

This seems to be happening more and more.

I think the first recorded pallid swift in England was in 1978, but certainly there was a minor influx of a few dozen birds in 2015, 2018, 2020 and now 2022.

Look to the skies in late October (very late October) or early November (very early November) when there have been a few days of strong southerly winds from Africa and you may just get lucky enough to spot, like we did, a pallid swift flying around the UK in October skies (with bare trees underneath it - quite a bizarre sight - a swift over a bare tree!

I spotted it first. I would of course, being the exhaustingly hyperaware idiot that I am. I see everything because I feel everything!

We were hitting balls at the driving range after Ben had completed his fourth day at half term golf camp.

I looked out into the range, selected my target about 150 yards into the driving range and then saw it.

"THAT'S A SWIFT????!!!!!" I shouted at Ben. 

We both peered at it. And it was obvious. A swift (species tbc) was flying quite deliberately, north to south, over the range at a height of 50 feet or so (low) and was being lit up well by a low sun behind us.

At first, we naturally assumed it must be very (VERY VERY) late common swift.

But that just didn't feel right!

It seemed to be paler than a "normal" swift, with a noticeable white throat patch (very noticeable), a noticeable dark tail (less noticeable) and noticeable mottled or scaled effect on its belly (again... very noticeable). As I wrote on the Berks bird website, that very light brown (tan, really), almost scaly-looking belly could have been the darker, sooty brown belly of a common swift, illuminated brightly by the low sun behind us, giving us both the independent impression that it was tan in colour but was in fact just a brightly illuminated sooty brown belly ... but we just don't think so. 

It wasn't just the swift's belly that was tan. We got the very clear impression that the entire bird was just "lighter" or "paler" than a normal swift.

(Again... regular readers of this blog and anyone that knows me should know that I do know my swifts!).

It flew a little more deliberately I'd say than a common swift too. A little more gliding. A little more solid and chunky. A little less flitty and (as I said at the time) a little less like a bat.

It circled back over our heads for 20 seconds or so and then hot-winged it south, into a pretty fresh breeze.

I wasted little time reporting it.

At the time I was 80-90% sure that we had both seen a pallid swift, and if it wasn't a pallid (it was though!) then it was a common/pallid hybrid and if it wasn't that, then it was a very light brown common swift - two months (at least!*) later than it should have been.

* The last swift I saw over Berkshire this summer was on August 16th - almost two and a half months ago.


Anyway... since reporting it, quite a few pallid swifts have been seen over the country.  Unprecedented, Bird Guides calls 2022. All of them (at the time of the bird guides report here) at or near the coast - APART from our Berkshire pallid swift... which again at the time of the Bird Guides piece was the ONLY inland pallid swift to be reported!


Some chap called Fraser Cottington has now also reported what he thinks "can only have been" a pallid swift 120 foot above his house in Berkshire, although he only saw it for 3 seconds (his words). But if* that swift was a pallid, then that (Cottington's) would be the second Berkshire record in October this year and one of a growing number of inland reports after my first one.

* There is simply no way for someone to be 100% sure of a pallid swift identification after seeing it from 120 feet or so away for three seconds only, despite Cottington writing "it can only have been....".  It could potentially have been a common swift or a common/pallid hybrid or pallid. That's assuming it was a swift species at all. Cottington has recently publicly identified a town (or feral) pigeon as a stock dove after all, so his pallid swift could have very well been a blackbird for all we know!


Not so much doubt about our (definite swift and nearly definite pallid) swift though. 
We had a wonderful view for a good minute or so, in great light, really pretty close.

And HOO BOY do we feel fortunate to see it.

Fly well, wee fella (or lass!).




[email protected] (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) Apus pallidus pallid swift Tue, 01 Nov 2022 19:02:32 GMT
October - and it was all yellow (again). October.

Historically, THE month which starts with pretty-well all the leaves on the trees and ends with pretty-well none of them on the trees - in between they all seem to turn yellow,

which is what I called my March monthly blog too, as (not so much all the yellow leaves but) all the yellow flowers appeared then.

Ben and I kicked off the month with a wee walk around a local gravel pit (well... cement works really) to see if we could spot any wading birds on their Autumn migration (October generally being a very good month for that sort of stuff).

We didn't see anything untoward really, (green sandpipers) in terms of waders, but we DID see two garganey ducks, which I've not seen in years. I would put one of my photos up here of these two ducks, but in all honesty, my photos were just dreadful - the ducks were so far away, I only really realised that they were garganey as they kept on flashing their green speculum

It was also lovely to see a load of house martins still in the country over the cement pits and a few hundred lapwing too.

Nice also to see a few insects - a colony of honeybees had clearly formed a hive inside one of the multitude of bat boxes in the oak trees.

Walking back to the car we found a superb HOP DOG (or pale tussock moth caterpillar) and a load of very active hornets too. I adore hornets, but unfortunately, we couldn't spend any time searching for their nest as I had to get Ben to golf academy that morning too.

In the afternoon, back at home, a superb young female sparrowhawk alighted on our recently trimmed leylandii tree. I think she's a regular visitor as jusr after it was cut a few weeks ago, I was sitting under the tree and a young, female hawk landed about 10 feet above my head for a few seconds.

This time though, I was in the kitchen with my camera - and I managed to get a reasonable photo through the double glazing, below.

On the 2nd, I went for my pre-dawn walk again and heard for the first time this season, the local foxes being pretty noisy. I managed to record one barking in the dark (around 5am) some 100 yards or so away from me in the woods, on my phone. (Clip below).

Despite an early morning of rain, the day soon cleared up into a lovely autumnal day. Ben and I spent the morning at a rugby tournament in Windsor and the afternoon on the golf course, where we heard and then saw two redwing fly over. Not quite the earliest I've ever heard or seen in the season, but pretty early nonetheless (ten years ago (in 2012) I heard two fly over at night, on the 26th of September - a full six days earlier than the pair Ben and I saw on the 2nd of October in 2022). Weird to see redwing share the sky with big hawker (I assume migrant hawkers) dragonflies.

We had a little drink after the golf, by the side of the final green and watched the omnipresent green woodpeckers perform aerobatics over our heads in the late afternoon sun, taking out what appeared to be hundreds or thousands even, of tiny white flies. Perhaps aphids. Perhaps someone reading this can let me know as to be frank, I'm not at all sure (see poor video I shot with my phone, below).

On the evening of the 3rd October, I noticed that our colony (*) of Segestria florentina (green-fanged, tube web spiders) at the back of the house at least, were doing very well, and sitting at the entrance of their hidey holes each night, waiting for a creepy-crawly or moth to trigger one of the trip-wires leading back to the spider's lair.  I first wrote about these spiders on this blog ten years ago... in fact... right at the birth of this website!  Ten years on, I naturally, took another photo (with my phone on macro mode). 

(*) These spiders, like all spiders, don't live in colonies of course, we just have many over the walls of our house, giving an appearance of a colony, so to speak.

The week between the 3rd and 10th was pretty dry really. Dry and warm. That said, this week seemed to be the first week of the Autumn when Daddy Long Legs (Crane Flies) seemed to bumble into the house, through the open windows. Meat and drink (literally) to our resident house guests, the Daddy Long Legs Spiders (Pholcus phalangioides) as this video (again shot with my phone) shows. 

Oh... by the way, within an hour of uploading that video, it had 550 views on Youtube and something like 20 likes. Which would make it my most-liked video and my fastest viewed. I have no idea why?!

I had BOTH my twin sisters over (yes... in case you didn't know, I'm a triplet) together for the first time in 14 years. The last time we were all together... was my wedding day, in August 2008! The warm, sunny weather brought to my attention again the lovely bow-winged grasshoppers in our front "meadow", a relatively small patch of lawn which I don't mow each year. The neighbours all have telly-tubby, plastic gardens, bereft of wildlife - so you can imagine they HATE our front garden. But WE love it. As do the burnet moth caterpillars that feed on the birds foot trefoil each year and the grasshoppers which stridulate from July to October inclusive each year. I think in my September blog I briefly mentioned that our grasshoppers in the front "meadow" are one of my proudest wildlife achievements here at our current home - and yes, I stand by that. I love having them, I love the sound they make, and I ADORE that I can show them to our boys (they love them too!). TThe photo below was again taken with my phone on macro mode. It's amazing how good phone cameras are these days. These lovely grasshoppers were present all month, by the way.

kA little rain on the morning of the 10th and a few dewy, cold nights before that, facilitated more species of inkcaps to burst forth from the ground. So, aalongside the shaggy inkcaps in the front garden (see the September blog post) we now had our fairy inkcaps, Coprinus disseminatus, in the back garden (all gathered around the roots of our biggest poplar tree)

and also glistening inkcaps, Coprinus micaceus, too (in the longer grass).

Both photos above were again taken with my phone. Fast becoming my camera of choice as its so portable!

That little bit of rain got the amphibs moving again. Whilst our 50 or so lily pads in the pond at the height of the summer were all dwindling, the pads that remained in October often seemed to have a wee frog or two sitting on it. Of course, the full HUNTERS' MOON on the 9th October would also have had the amphibs increase their activity. No... I'm not making this up. Lunar cycles tend to dictate a lot of zoological rhythms - especially amphibian rhythms. 

The 11th brought more sun and a noticeable number of (Colletes hederae) plasterer bees using ivy flowers (as they do) for their early Autumn food source. I videoed a clump of ivy on one of my walks around town below, and in it you might be able to make out a few insects - you'll have to take it from me that these insects are indeed ivy bees, with a few hornets patrolling the bushes around them - perhaps looking to take the odd bee!

I watched a few red admirals flying around the sunny garden and the odd small white butterfly and took a few photos (again with my phone) of the millions of dropped acorns in the road gutters and red pyracantha berries on bushes dropping under their weight.

I also noted that the local maple and sycamore (to an extent) trees were (ahem... obviously) coming out in support of Ukraine in the now, 8 month old conflict.

On the 11th of the month, I finally managed to not only get a really nice close-up shot of one of our omnipresent, neighbourhood red kites over our garden this time (photo taken with my 7d mk ii and a 400mm f5.6 prime lens)

but also a rather splendid female hawk (that at first I hoped was a goshawk, so big and impressive was she) putting everything that could fly, up into the air.

Incidentally, while I'm here, as soon as I saw the obvious and bold barring on the secondary flight feathers of the female sparrowhawk as I downloaded my photos onto Lightroom (my image developing and filing software of choice), I ruled out my brief, vain hope that it was a goshawk I was photographing. Goshawks do have faint barring on their secondaries, but only as juvenile birds - and if they're juvenile goshawks, they have streaked (not barred) breasts. When a goshawk's breast becomes barred (and not streaked) as an adult bird, they lose any trace of barring on their secondary flight feathers. (So yes... this was clearly just a very impressive female sparrowhawk and not a goshawk).

The middle of the month brought a fair amount of mixed weather. Some warm sunshine during the days (as well as squally showers and some breeze) but some really cool nights with heavy dew and mild air frost a couple of times. The leaves of course all continued to turn yellow and Ben and I spent most of the rest of the month raking up poplar leaves from the garden and trying to AVOID putting them on top of the still-active wasps' nest in the main compost heap. (Ben has been stung once by these wasps now, as have I).

My pre-dawn walks continued (I'm trying to do 365 days on the trot of 5 mile walks) and well... perhaps this is a measure of just how dull to many people this blog has become (I'm seriously thinking of knocking it on the head at the end of this year) as I can't imagine anyone other than me would be in any way interested in what subject I'm about to mention next.

That said, for my interest and reference only perhaps, on my pre-dawn walks I tend to follow a similar route each day and as I approach the end of mile 1 (of 5) my walk takes me along a relatively new path through a housing estate which up until about 5 years ago, used to be my local golf course.

I remember seeing Devil's coach horses MANY times as a wildlife-obsessed boy. But hardly any at all for the past 40 years. I can only presume that is because one of my hobbies as a small boy was turning over stones and logs to see what creepy-crawlies crept and crawled underneath and I guess, since discovering girls and alcohol and rock music and cars etc... I don't tend to turn over that many logs anymore. Perhaps that's why I don't tend to see Devil's coach horses anymore.

I say I don't TEND to see them anymore, as I ALWAYS see them on this 100-yard stretch of path at night (when I'm walking and they're hunting). I ONLY see them here and I ALWAYS see them here. It's almost bizarre.

This month I took a very bad photo of one adopting its characteristic scorpion tail defence pose, with my phone. 

Aggressive wee things, these biggest of all our UK rove beetles. Their scientific specific name, olens, literally means "smelling" - and if they still feel threatened after they've "scorpion-tailed", they'll produce a foul-smelling white exudation from the tip of their abdomen, which should finally see off their attacker.

Legend has it that they curse whoever they point their "scorpion tail" at. Means I'm scuppered, I guess.


On the 15th, Ben and I took a quick walk around one of our local gravel pits to see if any more migratory waders or ducks had dropped in. Nothing rare to note really - but it's always nice to see green sandpipers there and snipe. Apologies again for the poor-quality photos below. You'll make out the singular green sandpiper in the first photo - and the singular snipe in the second - but in actual fact that singular snipe in that photo isn't singular at all. Can you spot the other snipe in the frame? (It's not that hard, don't worry!).

I netted (covered with a net) our garden wildlife pond on October 16th, to try and ensure it didn't fill with dropped poplar leaves during the month. 

A sad time this, for me, netting the pond - but at least I don't leave it netted for more than four or five weeks - just until the poplar, lilac, ash and staghorn leaves have all fallen. The nearest tree to the pond in our garden is our oak which is doing well now (perhaps 20 feet tall after planting it as a sapling 8 or 9 years ago, and heavily laden with thousands of acorns this year) but in common with almost all oaks, it doesn't tend to shed its leaves like most other deciduous trees do - the old leaves just turn brown and crispy and are pushed off in the spring by the new, fresh, green leaves coming through). Because of this, I don't keep the pond netted all winter, even though the oak tree stands guard over it. To be honest, the pond is now probably full of acorns rather than tree leaves!

After weeks of frantic hedgehog activity around our hedgehog feeding station, from the night of the 16th/17th October no hedgehogs at all turned up to our feeding station. NONE!  I always tend to start worrying at times like this. Had they been run over or trapped in nearby tellytubby gardens again by environmentally ignorant neighbours (remember back in 2012 all our local hedgehogs were in that situation, trapped in neighbours' gardens by airtight walls or neat, ground hugging fence panels (THAT is the reason why hedgehogs will be extinct in the UK in our childrens' lifetimes at this rate). I mean, they have disappeared before for a week or two, but I'm not sure I remember them doing so in the Autumn, when they really should be feeding up.

There was to be no further hedgehog activity all month. I can only optimistically-hope that our hedgehogs have poddled off to pastures new to continue to breed like they did with us this year, or pessimistically-think that they've been killed (foxes, cars) or trapped (neighbour's fence imrovements). I have checked all our garden hedgehog runs and tunnels which I've implored the neighbours to keep - which (eventually) they all have done. Perhaps I need to think optimistically then. We all feel a little lost without our hedgehogs though, it's fair to say. 

The 18th brought us no wind at all, and therefore a dewy dawn fog (complete with glistening orbwebs in every bush)

and the 19th brought us strong easterly winds, bringing down a load of leaves.

On the week starting on Sunday the 23rd of the month, the Jetstream decided to throw us deep low-pressure system after deep low-pressure system. Sunday 23rd in particular was a wild day with torrential rain and thunder on my pre-dawn walk (where I photographed (with my phone) this toad below on the move through the dropped acorns)

continuing with torrential rain during the day (Ben and I got drenched at rugby training) and again thunder and torrential rain in the afternoon (which like the toad above, brought out the neighbourhood frogs (see below - again, photo taken with my phone) after dusk). Amphibs do like a bit of rain to get their limbs moving, that's for sure!

Tuesday 25th brought us a partial solar eclipse. I had, of course, to get a photo or two...

The incredibly mild weather continued until the end of the month really. We got up to 21C indeed, with very warm, southerly winds blowing up from Africa during the last week of the month, with big low-pressure systems sitting to the west of the UK in the main or rolling up the celtic nations.

On the 27th, a young woodpigeon flew into our eldest son Ben's bedroom window,

knocked itself out and landed on the conservatory roof as I worked below.

Took a while for it to recover (a good hour I'd say).

Later in the day (27th), Ben and I hit a few balls at the driving range after his half term golf camp finished for the day and I'd finished work. As I addressed a ball and gazed out towards my target at the range, I noticed a SWIFT fly through (well... over) the driving range. At first, we thought it was a ridiculously late common swift (the latest ever sighting of a common swift in Berkshire was on November 9th, 1988 - and the second latest was, strangely enough on October 27th again in 1990, over Finchampstead, a few miles SW of us here.
After we compared individual mental notes though (plumage colour, flight pattern etc) we both came to the pretty swift (HUR! HUR!) that what we had been watching for a minute or so, was in fact a PALLID SWIFT! I recorded it as such on the Berks birds website (see screen snip below).

A little more research after tea led me to believe that this swift was indeed a pallid swift - more and more so these days, the Mediterranean-nesting or Canary-Isles nesting (we're talking waaaay down south - these really aren't French birds) pallid swifts often get caught up in African southerly winds, just as they get ready to leave their nests after their second brood, in late October or early November. These strong, southerly, late October/early November winds can sweep up juvenile (and adult) pallid swifts and fling them as far north as Poland. 

Happened in 2015, 2018, 2020 and indeed 2022 (something like a couple of dozen were reported all over England and Wales in coastal counties mainly, in the fourth week of October 2022. And in this week..., Ben and I saw one over Berkshire!

We THINK that if our 80-90% suspicion becomes 100% and is effectively confirmed, well... that would (I think... I may be wrong) be the first confirmed pallid swift EVER recorded over Berkshire. As far as I'm concerned, I have basically little doubt at all it was a pallid swift we saw - quite incredible!

What a way to end the month. 

Until next time then,



[email protected] (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) acorns Bow-winged grasshopper Colletes hederae Coprinus disseminatus Coprinus micaceus Crane Fly Daddy Daddy Long Legs Spider Devil's coach horse Devil's coachman eclipse Fairy fox Frog garganey Glistening inkcap goldfinch green sandpiper green woodpecker hedgehog honeybee hop dog hornet house martin Hunters' moon inkcap" ivy bee Legs" Long migrant hawker oak Ocypus olens pale tussock moth caterpillar pallid swift partial solar eclipse Pholcus phalangioides plasterer bee pyracantha berries red admiral red kite redwing Segestria florentina small white Snipe sparrowhawk toad whitefly woodpigeon Tue, 01 Nov 2022 07:30:00 GMT
(Baa-dee-ya. Dancin' in...) September. In a typically (and depressingly) British fashion I will begin this month's round-up blog post by writing that "BLIMEY! Doesn't the summer heatwave feel such a long time ago now?!".

It does though, looking back at my July and August posts here. A long time ago.

Summer heat can't last forever though and as is very often the way, September 2022 brought us much cooler weather, a little more rain, proper and heavy DEW and even in a spot or two (not here, mind), a teensy-weensy bit of ground frost I hear.


September began in still, sultry fashion. On the 2nd, large flocks (50 plus birds) of starlings spent the afternoon taking what I presume were flying ants from the sky. Occasionally they would shout a "HAWK" warning as a sparrowhawk lazily flew past and half-tested them. I was sitting under our newly trimmed HUGE leylandii in the back garden when the starling HAWK call rang out - and shortly afterwards, a smallish female hawk landed in the tree about 10 feet above my head. There she stayed for about 10 seconds, peering at me below with her sulphurous eyes. Then, as Bob Mortimer might say... AWAAAAAYYYY!

On the 3rd, the weather was still sultry (or "close" *shudder* as some people would call it... CHRIST I hate that term) and it was lovely to see a very vocal coal tit in the newly chopped (in half) leylandii. I'm a big fan of the unassuming coal tit and was worried that cutting our big leylandii in half would get rid of them (and the goldcrests) ... so it a bit of a relief for me to see one in the tree so soon after we hacked half of the tree away. On my daily walk around town, I noticed that there seemed to be a lot of avian disturbance on a local pond. At first I thought some swans had been attacked during the night by some humans and dogs (I know this happens... I used to take calls from the public reporting this) as there were hundreds and hundreds of white feathers all over the lake and evidence of real disturbance too (snapped, marginal plants floating in the lake). That said, there were no dead birds, nor large, OBVIOUS swan feathers, which of course was a good sign. As the month went on it quickly became clear to me that far from a flock of swans being attacked at night... the pond itself was being used as a mass roost for dozens and dozens of canada geese, which I presume, were all preening throughout the night - nothing more than that! Phew! 

Between the 5th and 9th of the month, lots of thundery rain showers hit us. This felt particularly weird after weeks and weeks of hot sunny weather.  Real, heavy rain - and flooded patios etc.  During the night of the 6th (PM) and the 7th (AM) no hedgehogs visited our feeder for the first time in months, starting a couple of weeks of intermittent visits (the first such activity, or rather *lack of activity*, for months). Anna speculated that this might because the rains had reactivated their main food - slugs etc. She was very possibly correct. On the 9th, 10th and 11th for example, no hedgehogs at all visited our feeder - which to be honest concerned me a little (I spent a few mornings checking very local roads and pavements for flat hedgehogs and thankfully found none then).

On Saturday the 11th, Ben and I went to Wentworth Golf Club to watch the 2nd round of the BMW PGA Championship. It was originally scheduled to be the third round of course, but 'er maj' had the temerity to pop 'er clogs on the Thursday before, so the powers that be decided to call off play for a day. I have no idea why, but as I am a raging, ranting republican (and boy do I wish England in particular would finally grow up and have some self-respect rather than respecting some special blood sitting under a priceless crown) I wouldn't, would I?

Wentworth is a lovely place to be if you like golf AND wildlife and Ben and I enjoyed not only the sights and sounds of the best golfers in Europe smacking their wee white balls around the Surrey sand belt, but also the birds too. No-one else but Ben and I saw (or would be interested in) the tree creeper exploring the pines by the 10th green nor the coal tits in the same treetops, nor the flock of thirty or so house martins that flew over that part of the course in a big, talkative feeding party. Stunning birds, house martins, much prettier than swifts I admit, but nowhere near as impressive!

Sunday 12th seemed to be the day when I suddenly (I know not why) seemed to start noticing a lot more wildlife around me than earlier in the month. Firstly, two swallows (that I saw anyway, there may have been more of course) flew through the garden at lunchtime. Not together, but about 30 seconds apart, the first flying south and the second west. I mowed the lawn on the 12th for only the second time all year (it's been *that* dry all summer) after it suddenly seemed to turn long and green again (after summer of it being burned off and straw-coloured) and noticed a couple of rose chafers in the compost heap, not bothered by the wasp nest there of course.  The rose chafer and wasps were also joined by a robber fly on our rope washing line - unfazed by me and my phone on macro mode, taking its mugshot. 

I noticed a nice zebra spider sunning itself on the front of the house when I mowed a ring around our long, meadow front lawn and of course the dozens and dozens of bow-winged grasshoppers that live there. I honestly think that along with the pond (newts and frogs) and hedgehog tunnels (breeding hedgehogs) my greatest success, wildlife-wise, here at this house is our grasshoppers in the front garden. I never mow most of it... just a ring around the outside. Oh sure... the neighbours will hate it, but our neighbours are arseholes to be frank, so I don't care. The grasshoppers LOVE it though and therefore so do we! On the night of the 12th, a small, dark(ish) hedgehog visited the feeder for the first time in 4 nights (or pretty well exactly 100 hours). I have a feeling (I can't be sure) that this wee chap(pess) was one of this year's young.  To top it all, a frog appeared in our back passageway (matron) which was a bit of a surprise, as despite frogs appearing in our back passageway (MATRON!) very often (they use our hedgehog tunnel to when moving in and out of our garden), they normally do so, like most amphibians, when it's wet. It was again, bone dry, when this frog showed up. 

By the middle of the month, specifically the 13th, I was noticing LOTS of bats on my dawn walks and dusk patrols of the garden. Almost certainly common and/or soprano pipistrelles, as all the bats I was seeing were that sort of size, flying like pips and nowhere near notable bodies of water (other than our pond - over which one bat in particular seemed to enjoy feasting on the thousands and thousands of newly eclosed mosquitos above the pond and in between the poplars, oak and leylandii. 

On the 14th and 15th of September, it was clear that we had at least two hedgehogs visiting our feeder again - and not just in the wee small hours, as they had done earlier in the summer, but now like they used to, just after sundown too. Unfortunately, the hedgehogs, being solitary animals, did start to scrap a little over this food source again, which I videoed on the 20th. 

It was on the 16th September that first noticed a female sparrow occasionally roosting in our cedar swift box, which I again videoed on the 20th of the month. Looking at all the dried bird poo on the footage, which wasn't there in April, it's clear that birds (tits and or sparrows) have roosted in this box all summer perhaps - but I hadn't been aware as I (we) were getting live video feed to our portable TV from our attic swift space and tit box - neither was used by anything all year (for the first year that I can remember). 

On the 17th of the month, Ben and I played golf at Bird Hills Golf Club near Maidenhead and it was a pleasure to see quite a few swallows and house martins fly across the course, as well as a few pheasants run across it. They were ... the only birdies that we saw on the course that day (A HA HA HA HA HAAAA OHHH STOP IT).

On the 18th, I videoed a dozen or so more house martins drink from the watering lake at the Royal Berkshire Polo Club as Ben played rugby there.

I also took a little walk through Winkfield and discovered a wonderful badger sett alongside a deserted footpath, and watched roe deer and buzzards in the adjoining fields. A lovely little discovery! 

Finally, again on the 18th, I discovered a big patch of new parasol mushrooms on our local golf course. The sharp-eyed among you might be able to read the label on the inside of one of my clodhoppers in the second photo below... yes I have size 14 feet... these were BIG mushrooms!

At the end of the 3rd week of the month, specifically on the 21st, on another of my dawn walks, I watched a dozen or two bees swarm around an LED street light above a footpath before dawn. You may know bees DO sleep (generally) at night (or if you didn't, you do now!), but these bees were not sleeping - in fact they seemed very active, considering the sun was half an hour away from rising at the time. 

(1) Bees attracted to LED lamp-post at night - YouTube

There is an issue with honeybee parasitisation in North America at least (and I thiiiiink it's been seen in Belgium too) where honeybees are parasitised by Phorid flies, which effectively turns them into "zombees", and often makes them active at night and attracted to light. I don't happen to think this is what I was witnessing the other morning though - I assume all I was seeing is a few bees that had "bearded" around their hive in a tree at night - and these relatively new, bright LED streetlights erected nearby, had confused them meaning basic phototaxis has taken over and some of these bees were just attracted to the light, almost naturally.

Luckily, one of my sisters works in the Natural History Museum in London and has a few contacts which I hope she'll ask about what I saw. I hope the nasty zombie Phorid flies aren't now in the UK... we'll see eh?

Back to writing about our hedgehogs briefly now, and I witnessed (on automatically recorded footage on my tiny CCTV camera)  our boldest hedgehog fill its belly with a load of hedgehog food in the small hours of Friday 23rd September - and then curl up and sleep IN THE FEEDING BOWL for 90 minutes (between about 0200am and 0330am)! That would be the first time I've seen this behaviour. I hope it doesn't mean the hedgehog is ill or not quite right... it seems OK to me, other than having two or three big, swollen ticks behind its left ear. 

The last week of September brought us a mixed bag, weather-wise. Squally showers, cooler temperatures, some sun and some strong gusty winds meant my wildlife sightings were perhaps a little limited during this time.

Oh sure, I was lucky enough to see two swallows over our local golf course on the 25th, as well as lots of common darter dragonflies and what I assume were migrant hawkers too. Yes, I saw a lovely big buzzard sat on the corner of a local college's observatory on one of my walks (see the photos below)... but no I didn't go and see the juvenile marsh harrier that spent most of the month, including the last week of September, quartering over a local gravel works where Ben and I watch our winter ducks. Well... we're not "twitchers" you see.

By the final week of the month, the sloe bushes along my walk were DRIPPING with fruit, walking under oak or horse chestnut trees was becoming a risky affair (I got hit on the head twice by acorns and conkers) and the neighbourhood bramley trees were covering the roads in smashed, rotten fruit.

Earlier in the year (the Spring I think) a large house spider crawled over me in bed and on the 28th of September, in the early hours, a False Widow (Steatoda nobilis) did the same to Anna. I'm sure the reader(s?!) of this blog don't believe all the BS printed in the gutter press about these spiders, but in case there is anyone out there reading this that does believe that false widows are dangerous, WILL bite you and will rot flesh with their bite, none of the above is true.  Oh sure, they'll bite you if you're dumb enough to squash them, but the bite will be no worse than a wasp sting (if that bad) 99.99% of the time and much more often than not, the tiny, poor spider will try its level best to avoid you. Of bloody course it will. (sigh).

The spider that crawled across Anna's face originally and then her arm in bed was removed groggily by Anna herself, with her fingers - and then by me (it looks squashed in the photo below was fine, honestly).

Another shaggy inkcap came up in the front garden in the spot they always come up, (see photo below) and it was lovely to still hear and see the bow-winged grasshoppers in the front garden right to the end of the month.

Finally, depressingly-enough, the leaves were beginning to turn. As in almost every year (and despite the poor, stressed trees starting to drop their leaves (for a spell at least) in August this year during the end of the 2022 heatwave), we ended the month with 95% of the leaves on the trees, but we'll end the next month, October that is, with only around 5% of the leaves on our trees - and most of those 5% will be oak and beech!

Until November then....







[email protected] (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) acorn bow-winged grasshopper canada goose coal tit common pipistrelle conker false widow flying ant frog hedgehog honeybee horse chestnut house martin house sparrow parasol mushroom pheasant robber fly rose chafer shaggy inkcap sloe soprano pipistrelle starling swallow treecreeper Sat, 01 Oct 2022 08:45:00 GMT
August. The lucky ones. This will be a very short monthly report, perhaps the shortest of the entire year  -  if only because other than all the great stuff we saw in our wonderful wild week in West Wales (see parts 1 and 2 on this website), I've been quite hard at work so not seen that much recently  -  coupled with the fact that quite often August is a very quiet month, wildlife-wise, or it certainly seems that way after everything has pretty-well finished breeding, the autumn feeding glut and movements hasn't really begun at all and of course the swifts have all pretty-well gone by now.

So... if you want to fill your boots with lots of August wildlife sightings, please do click on the links above (click on the numbers 1 and 2 in the paragraph above)... and for the rest of this monthly report, I'll briefly describe other comings and goings during the past fortnight or so.

First things first (and I'll not dwell on this, as it will NOT be news to you), July's prolonged heatwave dominated the month of August too. So much so in fact that we're all pretty sure now that the summer of 2022 will be this generation's 1976 summer. Well... that is of course unless climate change has already really taken hold and ALL summers from now on are like 2022 and 1976. 

Most grass was burned off during August (I've not mowed our lawns since May - not needed to) and even the poor trees (many of them) started to shed a LOT of leaves by mid August around here, so stressed were they by the lack of water in the soil. Our garden black poplars (for example) would normally drop a leaf or two in the final week of September and then spend all October dumping them so by November, they'd be bare. It happens like this every year. A full set of leaves (pretty-well) on the 1st October and NONE by Hallowe'en.

Not this year though. I'm writing this blog on the last day of August (another warm, sunny day) and even though I haven't yet, I could have raked a very large pile of leaves up off the back garden and put them on our compost heap -  that's perhaps 6 weeks early, or certainly 4 or 5 anyway.

Regarding the weather, the rains finally came in earnest on the morning of 24th August. By then of course, the pond had virtually dried up (got to about 25% full I think) and I'd exhausted all five of my emergency water butts, which were all full of rainwater for years. Just one morning of pretty heavy (at times) rain on the 24th August not only filled the pond again but also filled three emergency rain water butts, just in case we got another two months of no rain! Strange though... I hear we may be due some rain tomorrow (a little), but since that morning of rain on the 24th - we've had nothing again. Nothing at all to have ponds like the (deep, dangerous (normally - hence the lifebuoy!)) pond by the 12th green of a golf course I regularly play at even start to become ponds again (see the photo below taken AFTER the rains of the 24th!).

OK. Enough of the weather - you know all about that anyway (I expect you, like me, look like you've been sunning yourself in Greece all summer, even if, like me, you've not been further south than Cardiff!).

As the heat built over the country, hedgehog activity in our garden dropped off a cliff. In fact we had a couple of nights in mid August when for the first time in months, we had no hedgehog visitors at all to the feeding station. I did see our female (I think we have only one female) get pretty molested again by one of our males (we have several) so I'm half-expecting her to be made pregnant again and give birth to a late, 2nd litter.  We'll see. All I know right now is that multiple hedgehogs (and all males I think) are back feeding with us... so that's good.

On the 18th of the month Ben and I saw (and heard) two ravens cronking over the Oxfordshire countryside as we played golf beneath them and a couple of swallows too... although as many people will know, swallows will be here for a good few weeks yet, having two broods each year if they can.

On the 22nd, we had our HUGE (50 foot high and 50 foot wide) leylandii tree properly seen to. Cut in half in fact. Out came a couple of well-established squirrels' dreys and pigeons nests. But back, thankfully came a pair of goldcrests the very next day. (We have goldcrests most of the year in our spruce trees - always singing to themselves (and me!) even in winter!).

On the 23rd I decided to put a lot of the dropped spruce leaves (dropped when tree was cut in half the day before) into the compost heap. Two wheelbarrows of leaves in fact. Which immediately resulted in me getting my second-ever wasp sting as I angered a common (not German) wasp guarding its nest below the compost heap - a nest I hadn't seen this year as I've not USED the compost heap, having not even had the need to cut the grass and put the clippings in the compost heap all year!

After the rains of the 24th, we were visited by an always-welcome young green woodpecker. Hopping around the newly (but briefly) dampened garden, looking for ants and other creepy crawlies.

And that, grapple fans, other than a family of very tame bank voles that crossed my path on another golf course on the 29th of the month, is pretty-well that for wildlife in August. At least for me.


No I've not forgotten.

My swifts.

The last swift of the year? For me (this may change of course - I HAVE seen one pass over this house south in the first week of September before) the final swift of 2022 danced across the sky south as Ben and I got out of a car having just played a local round of golf in the afternoon of Tuesday 16th August. We got out of the car at around 17:30 and my heart leaped when I saw it. I don't think I'd seen one in the previous ten days and I don't think I've seen one since.

I wish all the swifts nothing but good luck during their migration south and their winter sojourn in their proper home continent, Africa.... and as is traditional now, I play them my swift song (below) which I play each time they leave and each time they return (the lucky ones that is). 

Please do also listen to it  too - and think of these wonderful wee chocolate brown birds, arrowing back to the Congo like tiny bows and arrows right now, in their hundreds and thousands. 

Be safe you beautiful swifts - and roll on May 2023.


[email protected] (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) 1976 bank vole goldcrest green woodpecker heatwave hedgehog poor trees raven squirrel swallow swift wasp woodpigeon Thu, 01 Sep 2022 08:30:00 GMT
Our wonderful, wild week in West Wales. Part 2. (Wednesday to Saturday). This is part 2 of a 2 part blog post write up of our summer holiday in West Wales.

You might like to read these posts in order, so to read the part one first, please click here.



Part 2.


Wednesday 10th August. "NEWPORT SANDS".

  • Ben and I had a round of golf booked at 10am on Wednesday, at the superb Newport Sands golf club, with views (in this weather) over the bay and Irish Sea to die for. The sea looked like a mill pond all day (all week in fact). The only wildlife of note on this day (when we were concentrating on our golf and the wonderful views to be frank) were a pair of cronking ravens over the course (brilliant birds, ravens, I think) and small flocks of linnets bouncing noisily between clumps of gorse.
  • Anna saw a little egret on the estuary as we drove away from the course after our round (Anna and Finn spent another day on the beach) and we ate at Parrog, on the water front at a  very basic (fish and chip) cafe, The Morawelon Cafe.  I liked this a lot - LOADS of people around, kayaking and canoeing and swimming - the real hub of Newport, Parrog was. In.... yup... ridiculously glorious weather. By this point in the week everyone looked like they were on holiday in the Med. How lucky were we?!




Thursday 11th August. "STRUMBLE STROLL".

  • By Thursday I was becoming very much of the opinion that if you were to take a holiday near the coast of Pembrokeshire and NOT take a walk on a clifftop or two and NOT try to spot a seal or a dolphin or porpoise or gannet, then you might as well have stayed at home. So up I got, excited, at 6am - and out I sat, on the patio, overlooking the paddock and the river below, with a coffee. THIS is when I saw my (and our, in fact) only OTTER of the week. I was sitting there quietly, watching and listening - when three young ducks (that had been on this stretch of the river all week), hidden to me by the large willow tree in the garden,
  • became exceedingly agitated. I'm constantly telling people that if you want to SEE more wildlife, you need to LISTEN to your surroundings first. These ducks had been pretty quiet all week, and now they were alarm-calling and flapping about all over the gaff (I could hear that... not see it). Something must have upset them. And not a human (as we'd been close to them all week and they didn't mind). Something predatory. A fox? Nah... not in the river. A heron? Nah... I'd have heard that and anyway, herons don't tend to bother ducks when those ducks reach a certain size. A dog? A cat? I doubt it. So something else then. A mink? perhaps! An OTTER????!!!! Very possibly. Probably in fact! I kept watching the river and watched as all three young ducks quacked noisily and flew up stream in fits and bursts. Followed by a v-shaped ripple in the smooth river surface. As I watched, the ripple became a nose and then a head of YES. an otter... swimming upstream, leisurely it seemed. I saw the otter's head very clearly and watched it for about five seconds - then it submerged again and swam out of sight. All before the sun came up over the Eastern woodland and hit the river and paddock properly, all before anyone else had crawled out of their pits - and I (nor we... any of us) saw an otter again that week... despite getting up again at this time on Friday and quietly watching the river, in the vain hope that otters were more like their mustelid cousins, badgers, which often keep to predictable routines, and less like their mustelid cousins the weasels and stoats which are far more chaotic in nature. No photos nor videos of "my" otter I'm afraid - my camera(s) wasn't (weren't) with me and anyway... this was one of those times where I was far better just watching and forming memories, rather than worrying about aperture of lens and ISO film speed. I'm afraid I made Anna very jealous this morning as otters are her favourite animal, whereas badgers are mine - but there you have it. I just got lucky I guess.
  • When we had all had breakfast, we drove down to Strumble head for our cliff walk. It would give the boys a chance to see a lovely lighthouse (all children (and some adults too!) love lighthouses and tales of shipwrecks and mermaids eh?) as well as perhaps spot a big Atlantic grey seal or a porpoise.
  • Drenched in unrelenting sunshine again (you're getting jealous now too aren't you) we had a wonderful few hours gazing out to sea and we were lucky enough to see all manner of wonderful wildlife on this walk including: quite a few grey seals (calling to each other too - I told Ben about the mournful mermaids myth at this point), kestrels hunting in the sea breeze around the lighthouse itself on St. Michael's island, lots of shags, quite a few gannets out at sea, a pod of harbour porpoises checking out the bow wave of a wildlife watching pleasure cruise boat about half a mile off shore, some rock doves, some oystercatchers, lots of great black-backed gulls and some flocks of linnets. Anna saw a common lizard on the path and Ben found a bloody-nosed beetle too. It was just lovely to take the family to such a stunning coastline to show them seals. Anna was certainly very proud / thankful / relieved and glad that we decided to go "seal hunting" on our own and have a lot of success, rather than drive an hour up the coast to New Quay (for example) and pay for a boat to take us out. That would have been fun too I know, but all rather unnecessary if you just want some views and a seal or two - and you have a three year old who is a bit of a handful on land let alone on a boat!
  • Ben and I explored the observatory on the cliff top,
  • and then we drove home, full of smiles again after seeing the seals. We decided again that night to eat at the pub which was a very short walk away from Penwaun, the Trewern Arms. Even better it was this time, the chewy burger. Highly recommended!
  • The day ended with Anna and I being treated to the sight (and sound) of two badgers eating at our feet at dusk. I'd thrown caution to the wind regarding these lovely animals and offered them some food right by the cottage, after spending the week enticing them closer and closer. And HOOO BOY did it work! I may have been closer to badgers in my time (I've had cubs play on my boots whilst I was wearing them once after all), but Anna told me she'd not had such a close encounter with these wonderful wild animals before. They are just superb, badgers. And contrary to our government's insistence (after being lobbied by the rich NFU for decades) they do NOT threaten cattle farms' existence with bTB  - that's basically just poor animal husbandry by the farmers - which we basically force them to adopt after insisting on cheap food ourselves. You can see a video of our set up and these badgers at the end of Friday's section (when Ben watched them with us).







Friday 12th August. "DINAS IN THE OVEN".

  • We had all got up at 6am to try and spot "my" otter again, but alas no joy this time. Although we did see one or two dippers in the gloom before the sun crept over the trees to illuminate the river. One or two dippers and one or two kingfishers, so the dawn wasn't wasted at all (it never is!).
  • Our last moth trap morning produced a load of Black arches moths again and half a dozen Rosy footmen again but little else of real note.
  • Our last full day in Pembrokeshire - so we thought we'd walk around Dinas Island in the morning in oven-like temperatures and then wade, at our leisure, up the river in the afternoon.  If you are to do the same as us and explore the island (with just stunning views across to Fishguard and her ferries to the West and back to Newport bay to the East, then I'd really recommend you drive to Pwyllgwaelod beach in the early(ish) morning (the car park is free but fills quickly) and walk from there, rather than drive and park at the incredibly busy (from dawn it seemed - kayakers everywhere and parking charges) Cwm Yr Eglwys.  We had a brilliant (if steep and sweaty) walk up Dinas Head, where we also saw more seals from the cliff tops, a few fulmars, lots more shags and many stonechats too. The completely unexpected wildlife highlight of the two hour walk for us though was the sight of a juvenile cuckoo alighting on a fence for thirty or so seconds, before disappearing over the brow of a hill. Adult cuckoos left our shores weeks ago, having deposited their eggs in other birds' nests. This young (brownish/grey rather than airforce grey of the adult) would have never seen its true, biological parents, having been raised by a pair of reed warblers or similar - but now, perhaps six weeks after its real mother had flown back to Africa, this young bird was going to fly to Africa itself too. On its own. For the first time. An amazing sight for us all  -  and if you had asked me if I was expecting to see a cuckoo start its flight to sub-Saharan Africa in August on cliff top on an island (for all intents and purposes) off the west coast of Wales - I'd have said you were mad. But mad you would not have been. We saw it.
  • I loved walking around Strumble Head on Thursday and loved walking up Dinas Head today but equally, perhaps even more so, I absolutely ADORED wading up the sparkling clear river Nevern with our eldest boy Ben in the afternoon. We saw three dippers we think (really excellent views) a couple of kingfishers and quite a few grey wagtails. But just the feeling of wading up (to our waists at points - although we were all too aware that in most years and at ALL other times of the year, we would not be able to wade in this part of the river - we'd either be swimming or not entering the river at all, as the current would be too powerful - but not this week and not this never-ending summer, and not this week), was just glorious. We waded almost half a mile upstream before turning back. Ben really impressed me in this adventure too - he's becoming a proper little man! (sob! sob!).
  • Our last night at the cottage  - so we went back to our favourite eatery for tea - the brilliant (if expensive) Castle Inn
  • Because of Anna and my badger watch experience on Thursday night, we allowed our eldest boy Ben to stay up with us and hopefully watch the badger(s) from the kitchen patio balcony with us. On Thursday night the badgers arrived at 2140... but they didn't arrive until 2210 this night - but when they did arrive, WHAT A SHOW they put on for Ben. I don't think I've ever seen a 9 year old so quiet, so happy and so talkative afterwards. His eyes were like dinner plates! Well... he had badgers literally eating AT HIS FEET! (lit up my my red head torch - yes dear reader I came prepared with a macro camera, an action camera, a landscape camera, a pocket camera, a trail camera, a thermal camera, a pair of binoculars, a telescope, a moth trap, an extension lead AND a red head torch for wildlife watching!). You can see my edited video of this badger watch in the video below (all shot automatically with my static trail camera to our side, and also by me with my hand held thermal imager). You can also see in the photo below our "set up" for the badger watch - and just how close they came to us. In fact on the Thursday night, one badger even joined us on the patio. It got to within a foot of my feet!











Saturday 13th August. "THE END".

  • Saturday morning was basically spent packing and cleaning the cottage as we needed to vacate the property by 10am (we saw the cleaners arrive at 10:01am too as we drove away  (wow!)) so I'm afraid, other than a tiny walk up the hill by Ben and I (where we gawped more at ancient oak trees) we really didn't see any wildlife of note. 
  • Just before we left we all walked around the plot to say goodbye to the nesting swallows, the black horse (we assume she was a mare and perhaps a pregnant mare too looking at the size of her belly (perhaps she was just bloated, who knows, who cares?!)) in the flood meadow, the otters, the dippers, the dragonflies and the bats.
  • We left pretty sad really. Almost tearful in fact. Oh of course the weather helped enormously but we had had a wonderful week.
  • The plot was just so quiet. So so quiet! I'd love to return without a 3 year old in tow, but even with a three year old with us (and a nine year old), the only real sounds from the land all week were the chittering of swallows and house martins above the cottage, the burble of the river below and the occasional drive by of a big tractor on the road behind (perhaps 5 times in the whole week). Oh and the church bells I guess. And what a lovely church it was.
  • We'd love to return one day.
  • Perhaps we will.
  • We'll see.
  • Thankyou Penwaun and the Robinsons (the owners). Your (incredibly quiet) cottage and land and most importantly of all, your bats and badgers are just wonderful. Please continue to look after them.


[email protected] (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) badger banded demoiselle barnacle black arches bloody-nosed beetle blue tit brimstone moth buzzard canary-shouldered thorn cat shark egg-case common lizard common pipistrelle compass jellyfish cuckoo curlew daubenton's bat dipper dogfish egg-case fox fulmar gannet golden-ringed dragonfly great black-backed gull green sandpiper grey seal grey wagtail harbour porpoise heron herring gull house martin kingfisher limpet linnet little egret lugworm mermaid's purse minnow natterer's bat noctule bat otter oystercatcher pale prominent peregrine periwinkle pond-skater prawn ragworm raven razor clam robin rock dove rock pipit rosy footman rosy rustic sand eel sea anemone shag shrimp speckled bush cricket spider crab stonechat swallow swallow prominent swift tawny owl trout Sun, 21 Aug 2022 14:05:12 GMT
Our wonderful, wild week in West Wales. Part 1. (Saturday to Tuesday). We've just returned from a wonderful, wild week in West Wales. 

Well... truth be told, we've been back for a week now, but we've been getting on with other things, so I've only just now got around to writing this blog post - something I promised I would in the visitors' book we wrote in before leaving our holiday cottage this year, in Nevern, Pembrokeshire.

I've had to split this blog post into 2 parts as the website wouldn't allow me to write such a large post. This will be part 1. Part 2 will be published at the same time.


Yes... we stayed at a wee place called "Penwaun". About 3 miles inland from Newport in Pembrokeshire. (That's NOT the more famous Newport in Gwent or now Monmouthshire by the way).

This blog post will not form a review of the cottage itself - I'll not talk about the accommodation or state of the beds, nor the shower room/lavatories or facilities of our holiday cottage  (nor even the dog poo left in the garden from the previous tenants, nor the empty bottles of beer in the bins) - I'm pretty sure my wife will get to reviewing the cottage on google or tripadvisor or west wales holiday cottages.

No. This is a wildlife blog - so I'll basically just brief you, dear reader, on the basic lie of the land at Penwaun and then write about some of the wildlife we watched there.

If you *do* want to get a better idea of the accommodation itself after reading this blog (perhaps you even may be interested in renting the bungalow for a week) - you could do far worse than visit Penwaun's website HERE.



We chose Penwaun, or rather Anna did, as the bungalow looked lovely and private - and it sat in a large plot of land, bordered by the sparkling river Nevern to the West (promising kingfishers, dippers and even otters on the website) and a thick, steep mixed woodland to the east (perhaps holding pied flycatchers etc) to the East.

After a pretty horrible drive across England and especially South Wales (it's *always* horrible driving through South Wales... they never really sorted the M4 past Cardiff and Newport (Monmouthshire) especially did they?) we arrived shortly after 3pm on Saturday 6th August (last Saturday as I write this). We all know that this summer has been very like 1976 across vast swathes of England and Wales, so I'll not bore you with any more weather related details in this write up, other than to say I don't think we saw a single cloud ALL WEEK in Wales - the week just got hotter and hotter each day, from 24C on Saturday 6th to 31C on Saturday 13th. The weather was SO un-Welsh in fact that sitting on the kitchen balcony patio during the afternoons was almost TOO hot. A ridiculous thing to write in a Welsh holiday write up! 

For the remainder of this blog post I think I'll bullet daily wildlife sightings. If I do any more than that, you'll need a flask of tea to get through all my prose, I fear!


Saturday 6th. "ARRIVAL".

It was immediately obvious to us that Penwaun might be a veritable goldmine of wildlife for us and before we even unpacked the car, we just had to explore the outside of the cottage and land (from woodland to river).

  • Swallows were nesting in the smaller holiday cottage (Penwaun Bach) next to Penwaun, which the owners had kindly not offered up to other holiday-makers whilst we were renting the bigger cottage, Penwaun itself. (All privacy would have been immediately lost if that was the case - so the fact that we had the whole plot to ourselves was immediately and greatly appreciated). This would have been the swallows second brood (most swallows try for two broods a year if conditions are right - and conditions were certainly right this season!)
  • House martins and swallows were thick in the azure sky over the plot. Chatting to each other and metaphorically making hay whilst the sun literally shone.
  • As Ben and I waded into the river, I heard and then saw a green sandpiper whiffle down to a stony beach about fifty metres or so downstream of where we stood. What a bird to welcome us! (We only saw and heard a few more green sandpipers during our stay at the cottage - all in the first two days as it happens).
  • Dragonflies were everywhere. Mainly golden-ringed dragonflies as it happened (as a couple of my photos below (taken with my phone!) will prove) but I expect there were also other big hawkers dogfighting around in the sun over the meadow and slower parts of the crystal-clear waters of the river Nevern. As there were banded demoiselles
  • It was also lovely to see my favourite birds of all - swifts, from West Wales, not only from the garden at Penwaun, but also high in the sky from the pub beer garden we had our evening meal at ("the Salutation Inn" at Felindre Farchog - just a couple of miles from Penwaun).
  • At the pub that evening, Ben and I were also lucky enough to watch a dipper in the river Nevern, under the bridge in the pub's beer garden. Lovely, lovey birds - and certainly something that we were keen to see during the week. Well... we'd seen one on the river Nevern at the pub (that's the same river that flowed past the cottage two miles away). An immediate score!
  • Back to the garden then, for a wee swing under the willow tree! Bliss!
  •  On sitting on the kitchen balcony patio after putting the boys to bed, Anna and I were treated to big Noctule bats (Britain's biggest bats) flying over the cottage, much smaller bats (I suspect Natterers bats or Pipistrelles - but I can't be 100% sure as I didn't bring a bat detector - I may well be wrong but they do look like Natterer's (originally called "red armed bats on account of their pink arms - see my poor photo below, where admittedly the bat is being highlighted by the strong, low sun) flying around our heads - and Daubenton's bats flying over the river below us. I adore bats and this was a REAL treat.
  • As the sun disappeared and the waxing full(ish) moon appeared from the wood to the south, the local tawny owls began their evening chorus (one in even alighted on the low telegraph pole by the boys' bedroom). 
  • Finally - something I (nor Anna) had even considered. I took my thermal imager down to the cottage - and just before we went inside for the night - I thought I'd scan the large plot of land for any life. The garden. The flood meadow (horse paddock really). The river bank. The woodland edge.... and I immediately saw a badger through my thermal scope, in the pitch dark, in the meadow about 100 yards from us. My favourite British animal of all. Here in "our garden" for the week.  I set up the moth trap in the garden as we headed inside (yes I brought that down to the cottage too!) and we went to bed smiling!






Sunday 7th. "CHEEKY GULL".

  • Ben and I emptied the moth trap on getting up and were a little disappointed to be honest. Our moth haul on the Isle of Wight (for example) was nothing short of spectacular, but here in Wales, and being the moth snobs we are (I know I know) only a few Black Arches, Rosy Footmen, Rosy Rustics and one Brimstone moth really got our attention. (The photo below is of a speckled bush cricket by the way, which seemed to like to use our bottle of sun-cream as a lookout perch, but I'm sure you knew that already).
  • One of the local herons (which probably fished for Sewin (Sea Trout) and Brown Trout) in the River below the cottage squawked its indignation at our moth haul too that morning. Or so it seemed.
  • On our first full day at Penwaun, we thought we'd quickly check out the nearest beach at Newport. Yes... of course... the unbroken sunshine of the week helped, but Newport sands certainly ticked all our boxes. Nice gentle shelving sand for the boys, warm(ish) water for us all to swim in if we wanted, a private cove type thing (Welsh black shale cliffs providing the privacy) for sunbathing - and most importantly for me at least - some brilliant rockpools to explore. During our rockpooling and in  among the limpets, barnacles, periwinkles and sea anemones (which were everywhere) we discovered a rather lovely, if hapless, compass jellyfish.
  • Lugworms, ragworms and razor clams were also everywhere on Newport beach - this was heaven to wading birds I thought to myself...
  • I spent sometime showing the boys the delights of popping bladder wrack and trying to impress on Anna the skin rejuvenating properties of the jelly in the seaweed bladders!
  • We ate lunch at the Cat Rock Cafe at Newport Sands golf club overlooking Newport bay in wall-to-wall sunshine of course, and the boys watched in delight as a cheeky Herring gull took apart the table next to us, after the diners had left.
  • On our drive back to the cottage we stopped at the iron bridge over the Nevern estuary to see if there were any wading birds around. Well... lots of crows and gulls and geese and then I heard a peregrine in the distance and pointed it out to the family as it arrowed overhead like a fighter pilot returning to its aircraft carrier.
  • We had tea at the Trewern Arms - the nearest pub to Penwaun (about a 5 minute slow walk). And very nice it was too - there was a Celtic folk band in the beer garden and the Fore-rib burger that I had was really, really good!
  • More badgers in the evening of course.  With thermal camera. And trail camera (yes I took a trail camera as well as my thermal camera and moth trap and landscape DSLR and sports/action DSLR!) overnight too. More on that later. Much more!





Monday 8th. "RIVER WADING".

  • I decided to put a little peanut butter and oats mixture out in the meadow on the night of the 7th/morning of the 8th, spread under (badgers would have no trouble turning over a heavy slate, but most other animals would struggle) a heavy, old, broken bit of roof slate. I had established on the 6th and 7th that badgers were coming out of the woodland at night to hunt for worms in the flood meadow/horse paddock and turn over the horse poo there, looking for insects to eat and also dropped apples to snaffle from the large(ish) apple trees in this part of the plot - all laden with fruit. There was quite a bit of evidence of badger activity in the horse paddock/flood meadow. Diggings. Badger poo. Badger paths etc. So out in the meadow went the slate with the peanut butter. And out went the trail camera too. Overlooking the peanut butter smeared slate. And what a set of video clips I managed to record. At least three badgers bickering over this sweet treat. Our badger watching would get better and better (read on) but this was a marvellous start to the week!
  • As the river Nevern below the house looked SO wonderful,
  • we thought we'd take a little time to explore it on the Monday of our holiday. We didn't see a dipper on this exploration, but we did see herons, kingfishers, pond skaters, grey wagtails, minnows, little trout (we assume), more dragonflies and demoiselles of course, with buzzards and swifts overhead.
  • Just a lovely day exploring the plot a little and then a wee drive around the area, getting to know where everything was (local shops, boozers, garages etc) - and then sitting again on the kitchen balcony patio, watching the swallows catch food for their young (one young swallow was ejected from the nest on this day by the way - I assume it was sick) and the fledgling blue tits and robins dance about in the apple tree below the patio. All again in quite ridiculous weather - we all had a Mediterranean tan by the end of the week!
  • Word of warning here to anyone visiting this site after looking in the Penwaun visitors' book. I'll not go into details as like I said at the start of this blog post - this is NOT mean to be a review of the holiday - whether that be a  review of the Penwaun accommodation itself OR the local pubs etc. That said... we ate tea at the Royal Oak at Newport on this Monday. Want a word of warning or advice? Just don't bother. The Royal Oak is no more than an Indian takeaway for the locals now, just *posing* as a pub or gastropub. We ordered food at 1730 (so hardly in peak food ordering time - but we didn't get served until nearly 1900, after asking twice what was going on. To add to that... the food was barely edible either. A gurt big dollop of luke warm, microwaved tinned spinach and tinned potatoes billed as "fresh seasonal vegetables"?! Hey... you probably won't know me if you're reading this as a holiday maker in Penwaun, looking for tips etc... but take it from me, I'm no food critic, I'll eat pretty-well anything - but I would strongly suggest you stay WELL clear of the Royal Oak at Newport - it really, honestly is one of the worst pubs I've ever been to - and again you won't know me... but I've been to lots of pubs!
  • Finally on the 8th, Ben and I set up the moth trap again - but this time in the "front garden"  (complete with small apple trees) of Penwaun, as the back garden's haul two nights previously, disappointed a little.





Tuesday 9th. "THE BEACH".

  • Ben and I emptied the moth trap after the sun came up. A much better result from the front garden it seemed, with a few Canary-shouldered thorn moths, a Pale prominent moth and a magnificent Swallow prominent (which I'm told is common and widespread, but to be honest I can't ever remember seeing before).
  • Ben saw a kingfisher dart down the beautiful, clear, sparkly river (as I packed the car for the beach), and I had heard a few during the previous two days (*all* my family now know what a kingfisher sounds like, so they never will need to tell me (like many people do) that they've never seen a kingfisher on the river - it's EASY - they literally TELL you that they're flying down the river each time they take flight!)
  • Tuesday was beach day - that was going to take up the whole day basically and why not?! A large, sandy beach with plenty of rockpools to explore for people that can't or won't sit still on a towel - plus we were convinced, all manner of coastal wildlife to gawp at. Ben and I took an immediate adventure up to the north end of the beach where we found a lot of peace and quiet as the sand turned to rock and pebbles and green seaweed. As we scrambled over this part of the shore, we found a mermaid's purse (or dogfish (in this case) egg case (incidentally the dogfish as I knew them, when I was dissecting them as an A level student are now classified as "cat sharks" *siggghhhhh*)) were treated to what we counted to be forty curlew all gathered under the cliffs in the rocks (occasionally breaking into flight in small groups to head inland) and quite a few noisy oystercatchers - piping their way low over the water to another rocky outcrop to hunt for something to eat. Rock pipits danced on the pebbles and cliffs around us and Ben managed to catch a prawn in a large rockpool, as well as the more common shrimps. There was evidence of spider crabs around us too on the beach, (as well as shore crabs of course) but we didn't manage to see a live example. 
  • One more thing to note regarding the beach was that we found quite a few dead sand eels in the sand and gently breaking waves on the sandy beach. I assume the tide just did for them - and I've read also that mackerel often chase them out. Nothing to worry about I guess - and Ben (like all small children and some adults!) was fascinated by them - so ended up collecting quite a few in a bucket.
  • We ate tea at the brilliant Castle Inn in Newport. The complete opposite of the dreadful Royal Oak - I can and will now thoroughly recommend this big gastro pub for eating and drinking. Yes... it's very, VERY expensive (£48 for one prawn salad and one crab salad  - WOW!!!) but the curries are superb (and we are aficionados of  Sri Lankan curries after all) but this was not going to be the last time we visited this pub during the week. Superb, it was.
  • When we returned from the pub to put Finn to bed (shortly after 7pm), we noticed wee bats flying from the garage of Penwaun, through what appeared to be ventilation holes in the eastern wall of the garage. Lots of them. We also noticed other bats climb down under roof tiles and from behind gutters of both the Penwaun cottage that we were staying in - AND the wee, one bedroom annexe, Penwaun Bach, that the garage was joined to. Again... LOTS of bats. In fact two or three bats started and ended their nightly flights from the roof tiles just by the clock on the kitchen balcony patio - as we sat there. If you are reading this, sat on that patio, and bats are almost brushing your hair for you each evening, know this - they WON'T ever touch you (their echolocation is far too sophisticated) but you ARE sitting right in front of their front door, sat there on the patio. You're in their porch (not the other way around).  We adored seeing these incredible animals all week - bats are right up there in the league table of my favourite British animals - they're basically super-powered, flying mice! I got a few very poor photos of them but I haven't (yet) managed to 100% establish that they were indeed what I suspect to be natterer's bats  (or perhaps the far more common pipistrelles (either common or soprano)). We certainly watched Pips and Daubenton's bats too at Penwaun, but these were hunting over the slower-moving parts of the river as Daubenton's bats do
  • - the bats that came out of the buildings seemed to hunt around the woodland in the main (as Natterers and Pips do). I also took a couple of videos of the holes of in the garage, as the bats were noisily-talking to each other all day long when they weren't flying. Just lovely to hear.
  • We were also intrigued to read in the "book of suggestions" at Penwaun (for holiday makers to offer suggestions to the owners of the cottage) that someone had suggested bat boxes and swift boxes? Well... the entire place is demonstrably and already a *perfect* bat box for them it seems (they simply don't need bat boxes - they just need their current homes under the roof and in the attic protected -which they should be of course - bats are VERY protected in UK Law. I should (of course) know). As for swift boxes.... not many swifts would want to nest in a box on a bungalow. Swifts need 5M or so drop from any nest box or nest site. Bit difficult that, on a bungalow. I assume the person writing that suggestion meant swallow or house martin nest boxes.... but they don't nest in boxes. Strange, but there you are. At least the suggestions were more thoughtful (I guess) than my suggestion of Bristol rugby beer glasses please, not the dreadful Bath rugby beer glasses that were provided! 





If you like, please read part 2 of the blog post here.


[email protected] (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) badger banded demoiselle barnacle black arches bloody-nosed beetle blue tit brimstone moth buzzard canary-shouldered thorn cat shark egg-case common lizard common pipistrelle compass jellyfish cuckoo curlew daubenton's bat dipper dogfish egg-case fox fulmar gannet golden-ringed dragonfly great black-backed gull green sandpiper grey seal grey wagtail harbour porpoise heron herring gull house martin kingfisher limpet linnet little egret lugworm mermaid's purse minnow natterer's bat noctule bat otter oystercatcher pale prominent peregrine periwinkle pond-skater prawn ragworm raven razor clam robin rock dove rock pipit rosy footman rosy rustic sand eel sea anemone shag shrimp speckled bush cricket spider crab stonechat swallow swallow prominent swift tawny owl trout Sun, 21 Aug 2022 14:04:13 GMT
July to me? We're racing through the year now eh, grapple fans. Soon be Christmas and all that?

Sunrise during a heatwave in Cumbria. July 2022.Sunrise during a heatwave in Cumbria. July 2022.Sunrise during a heatwave in Cumbria. July 2022.


July then - the driest for 111 years I've read - and yes... it WAS dry wasn't it? And hot. VERY hot indeed. RECORD BREAKING hot, in fact (it got to 40 degrees here on the 19th, as I drove my eldest boy and me back from St.Andrews - but more on that later).

I've run out of emergency rain water, held for two years in five water butts around the garden, the pond is looking lower and lower and I hear we're not expecting any significant rain for a while yet. Hosepipe bans are imminent I'm sure.

Right. That's enough about the weather (and climate change). What have I seen in this hottest, driest ever July then?

I ended June's monthly summary with a rather sad note that our screaming, banging, prospecting swifts had not been visiting the house nor school for some time (at least not in the way they had) but luckily, at the start of July, they returned, as magnificently as ever. 

On the 2nd of July, our first pond water lilies flowered. There'd be a few flowering over the month (perhaps a dozen) but most were hidden by the rampant lily pads themselves.

On the 4th of July,  (isn't it interesting by the way, how Americans insist on saying JULY 2nd, July 5th, August 11th etc... UNTIL their Independence Day when they then (and only then) insist on joining the rest of the world by saying "4th of July" instead of "July 4th" (I don't make the rules)), I discovered a Gypsy Moth caterpillar on the underside of a flower pot 

... and the 4th of July was the night when I also was delighted to see that we had baby hedgehogs in the garden for the first time in a decade! This was to be the start of much hedgehog comings-and-goings which I'll go into in a minute.

On the night of the 5th, Ben and I were again made up when we discovered a shocking pink elephant hawk moth in the moth trap (I think we only set the trap up a couple of times in July). This moth has now already climbed to the lofty heights of number 2 in Ben's favourite moths (the top 3 being Gypsy moth, Elephant hawk-moth and Burnished brass).

During the 1st and 2nd weeks of July we were treated to the sight of at least three (I only saw three together... there may of course have been more that I didn't see) baby hedgehogs in the garden. They tended to arrive (from we suspect under the decking of our neighbours' to the east) well before sunset and I took the time to video them on my DSLR, my trail-camera and the thermal camera. Wonderful wee things. A few of these videos can be seen below.

In the video below, I've glued together footage of the young (and mother) from mid July to footage of the adults from the fourth week of the month. I noticed that we had at least three adults visiting our garden each night too, one being a female (the mother of the three young) and one very large, fat male with another smaller male... and perhaps another male with what appeared to be a hip or foot problem.

I'll carry on writing about hedgehogs and move to the end of the month (before returning to the middle of the month on other subjects below) by showing you one final video clip from this month of three of our adult hedgehogs in a courtship and or territorial dispute on the night of the 26th.

I should perhaps again bring to your attention that this blog is not Springwatch. So I'm not going to name these individual hedgehogs for you. Nor write about them being "friends" with each other. Or "in love". Or that they "wait" for each other or "miss" each other. That's for other British wildlife lovers to write about. You know me better than that.

It would be very fair to say that a lot of July has been spent watching these hedgehogs in our garden. The slightly worrying thing I suppose, is that I've not actually seen ANY of the three young since the middle of July. Admittedly I was away for 6 nights in the middle of the month - and at that time in the 2nd and 3rd weeks of July, we had real heatwave conditions... but even so, I'd have thought I'd have seen them at some point in the third or fourth week or recorded them on my trail camera.

Not a peep.

I assume they've already moved on (as I don't think they'd have starved or become dehydrated like many other animals would have done this month because of the heat) as we left lots of water and food out for them each night - as we always have done. I guess they might have died (fallen into the neighbours' concrete fish pond, been turned over by a fox, what have you) but I just like to think they've moved on and not all died!

From the video above you'll see their mother is being "courted" again by a small, aggressive male, and it's true that occasionally hedgehogs DO have two broods of young a year - so we'll see what happens in August and September (and October) won't we?

OK. That's enough about our excellent hedgehogs. What else have I (we) seen in July?

On the 13th  (at 5am... at the start of another dawn walk) I noticed an evening primrose flower burst out from under a wall on a pavement up the road. Life will always find a way eh?

And also on the 13th I noticed that at the site where I discovered our common spotted orchid last month, the council had designated a "roadside nature reserve". Good on them I say and I stand corrected with what I wrote last month ("On the 20th of June, a superb surprise greeted me at dawn on my daily walk around town - not a rare orchid but a first for me in town. A common spotted orchid. Proud as you like. Just by the side of the road. I only hope those bleeding council contractors don't strim this within hours too, just like they do with everything else.")

From the 14th to the 19th of July, I drove myself and my eldest son up to St.Andrews in Fife to go and see the last two days of the 150th Open Championship golf. We took two days to get up there (stopped halfway at Shap Wells hotel near Penrith) and two days to get back, again stopping at Shap on our way back down.

We stopped at the Shap Wells Hotel (photo below taken just after dawn)

as it was nicely around halfway on our route, it was in the middle of nowhere, so we could get out of the car and stretch our legs a bit...

and also that we could see red squirrels there (who doesn't like red squirrels?!) and more importantly for me I think, dippers!

Well... we  saw lots of red squirrels on our stay there on 14th (evening) and 15th (morning) but no dippers at all. 

Instead of dippers though, we did see some lovely common sandpipers. They were very much acting as though they were still nesting. May have been I suppose - they were certainly very vocal.

Poor old Ben kept on having to listen to me bleat on and on at Shap that he was getting to see one of the more beautiful parts of England in weather that it basically NEVER experiences.

I mean it was BOILING in the hills. Clear blue skies. All the moss on the dry stone walls becoming crispy. The keeled skimmer dragonflies (photo below) having smaller and smaller bodies of water to patrol over and almost no bogs at all!

On our return stay on the evening of the 18th and morning of the 19th we did eventually see dippers. Three of them. But I took no photos... it was one of those times to just watch the wildlife and enjoy it without thinking about focal length or aperture etc!

Would I recommend Shap Wells Hotel? Yes... if you like peace and quiet and wildlife. N=And... well... no.. if you don't!

Ok... back to the golf at St.Andrews then.

Did we see anything there?

Of COURSE we did!

On our bus trip to the campsite (we stayed at the camping village at the Madras rugby club, behind the Old Course Hotel) we noticed, from the top deck of the double decker bus we were on, hundreds of oystercatchers in stubble fields inland from the Eden estuary and as soon as we'd unpacked into the tent we had "rented" for the weekend, we saw that the camping village had not one but two hares on site all weekend too. 

To be honest, this discovery, within minutes of arriving at the camping village, was an absolute delight - and was undoubtedly my wildlife highlight of the trip and perhaps even the entire year. I ADORE hares, and the fact that we had two, darting in and out of the tents at a massively busy campsite (777 tents... yes we counted!) on Open weekend was completely unexpected and absolutely wonderful.

The camping village was very "festival-like" (I've been to six Glastonbury festivals, so I'm used to seeing turds in showers etc) but the hares made it all rather lovely, as did the oystercatchers flying overhead between hide tides and inland lakes. Unfortunately one of these oystercatchers made its home the rugby club during our stay there. It clearly had a very nasty injury to its right leg/foot. It couldn't even walk... it sort of hopped, with what looked like its foot hanging off. As is often the case with badly injured animals, it had been abandoned by its kind, and was left to well... die... on its own. Quite sad really. (A big difference between humans and the rest of the more highly-evolved animals that - we can and do (often) care for the chronically or acutely sick - animals don't tend to and can't risk it).


Other wildlife highlights from our time at St.Andrews included yellowhammers singing on the old course (which added to Ben's "Around the birds in eighty aves" total as we missed them down south when we walked along the ridgeway in the winter), curlews and more oystercatchers on the Eden estuary at low tide (behind the 11th and 7th shared green grandstand where we spent a couple of hours on Sunday morning)

and Sand martins with rafts of female and young Eider ducks on or from the West Sands, away from the golf course for an hour or so.

Our final wildlife highlight watching the golf was the sight of a young peregrine buzz the gulls and house martins and wagtails and pigeons at the Swilcan burn by the 18th and 1st fairways on the afternoon of Saturday the 16th.

The video below (shot by me on my phone - you're not allowed 'proper' cameras at golf tournaments) shows the view we had of the 18th tee and 1st and 18th fairways as we leant on the road wall behind the 17th green.

Please note the video below does NOT show the peregrine. I took the video a little later, just to show the view we had (the peregrine itself stooped behind the red flag on the 17th green from our (and now your) view. In the photo below we were standing behind the wall to the right, shooting the video.

On the highlight show (on BBC) we can be actually be seen by the road hole wall on 17. The below is a photo of the paused TV highlights programme. We (Ben and I) are actually in this shot. I'll leave you to work out where exactly!

There were DOZENS of THOUSANDS of people around. The young peregrine flew over from the old town and suddenly stooped over the burn. It seemed to just be testing itself and any potential prey rather than singling out something for tea as it came up with nothing and flew directly towards the town again... pursued by noisy, mobbing house martins.

At the time it stooped, I shouted "BEN! LOOK! A PEREGRINE!"

We both watched it... and even though we were surrounded by thousands of people... I honestly don't think ANYONE else saw it.

That sort of stuff makes me weep to be honest. I mean... I know I'm hyper aware, but really... what is the point of having eyes if you see nothing with them?!

Anyway... that was a really special moment for both Ben and I - I hope the trip and that moment in particular lives with him forever.


That was that for St.Andrews. Before we got the bus back to the car park, we said goodbye to the hares. They weren't interested of course.

We returned to the Shap wells Hotel to yes, see dippers and also Marsh Orchids (no photos) and the rather wonderful "Bog Asphodel". These yellow flowers appear all over the upland wetlands of the north and west and provide an abundant food source for many pollinators... including MALE horseflies... as their female counterparts try to feast on us instead (as they did on our walks around the hotel... I don't hate many types of wildlife but I really do HATE female horseflies!).

Bog Asphodel has a specific latin name of Ossifragum, by the way - which literally means "bone-breaking". It was given this name as it thought that the sheep that ingested a lot of Bog Asphodel on their upland pastures, developed brittle bones - and it was the yellow Bog Asphodel that caused this. All very unfair really as it simply is the lack of calcium on these upland pastures that caused brittle bones in livestock - nothing to do with the pretty Asphodel flowers at all!

OK. Back to birds now.

Before we left the Shap Wells Hotel, I thought I'd take a slo-mo video of the very pretty house martins that nested under the eaves of the back of the hotel. Now, house martins, unlike swifts, do leave a fair amount of mess under the nests each year, so I can understand why the manager of the hotel netted the front of the hotel... but I'm so glad he left the back for the martins to nest. They are such pretty birds - prettier than swifts I admit, even if they're far less spectacular and superb!


We'll end on swifts then shall we? No better place as far as I'm concerned, as you'll know by now.

We returned home on Tuesday 19th to (never experienced here before) 40 degree heat and (never experienced here before) mammatus clouds.

Our wonderful swifts hung around for a few days, screaming at the house every dusk but not really appearing UNTIL dusk.

On the evening of the 23rd, I thought I had seen them for the last time, as we had a little rain at sunset on the 24th (they didn't return at dusk therefore), nor did they return on 25th. 

One bird on passage, silently flew through on the 26th... but on 27th at 9pm I was so excited to see our full squadron of five swifts give me a persona display again over the house and school. Well... I felt it was personal to me of course! I'm sure these five were the five that had been prospecting around the house and school earlier in the summer. 

I took a few photos for posterity.

NB. We live quite close to Heathrow Airport and the plane in the shots below was a couple of minutes into an 8 hour flight to JFK airport, New York.

Its wheels would have touched down 8 hours after I took the photo.

The five swifts in the photo won't be touching down for another 9 MONTHS at least ... and much more likely another 21 MONTHS!

Absolutely ridiculous birds.

Absolutely awesome as my wife texted me that evening (she's away with the boys at her parents).

A couple of swifts (but not "ours" I think) flew very quickly over the house around 9pm on the 28th and didn't stop, so I think I was right, "our" swifts really did leave on the evening of the 27th... having made sure that they knew where to come back to next year, if they're one of the lucky ones...

Yes, a few swifts flew over the house up until the end of the month (although I didn't see any at all on the 31st, the final day of the month) and yes I KNOW there will be swifts up North still, which will fly south over Berkshire and potentially our house during August, but that really does feel like that for this year, as far as "our" swifts are concerned. As is traditional now, I'll give them their own blog post shortly.

There you go then, dear reader.










[email protected] (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) bog asphodel common sandpiper curlew dipper elephant hawk-moth evening primrose fox gypsy moth caterpillar hare heatwave hedgehog horsefly house martin keeled skimmer kingfisher lily mammatus clouds marsh orchid oystercatcher peregrine red squirrel sand martin stag beetle swift water yellowhammer Mon, 01 Aug 2022 08:45:00 GMT
We've done it! For ten years I've been trying to assist our local hedgehogs.

Originally trapped in neighbours' tellytubby gardens, I've been talking to neighbours, digging tunnels under fences, drilling tunnels under side doors, unblocking tunnels that neighbours filled in again, feeding and watering and giving hedgehogs shelter spots and hibernacula - all the while allowing the animals to come and go (permanently if necessary) as they please.

We've had up to four individuals coming into our gardens each night.

We've had hedgehogs squashed on the road.

We've had foxes turn them over and eat them.

But THIS year... we have three superb wee baby hedgehogs explore the garden before dusk in July - and throughout the night.

We've done it!

(Video made up of handheld thermal camera footage in first clip followed by a few trail camera clips, spliced together).

[email protected] (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) Wed, 06 Jul 2022 12:49:03 GMT
They're back (again). Just the shortest of posts this morning, primarily for the benefit of certain potential readers (specifically the staff of the school opposite and the ecologists' firm surveying the school's buildings for birds and bats before giving the green light to any work there this summer).

In June's blog here, I suggested that the prospecting swifts at the school opposite, perhaps seemed to have become less interested in their new potential nest and or roost and or dry run site over the past 3 weeks or so.

ALL CHANGE suddenly.

As soon as July started, we're suddenly back to where we where in late May and early June. A squadron of up to six swifts is once again constantly overhead and constantly checking out the school nest site and to a lesser extent our house opposite too.

This recent upsurge in aerial activity corresponds very nicely with the arrival (at the start of July) of the "third wave" of visiting swifts.

The 3rd wave comprising almost entirely of yearling birds, making an exploratory trip north from Africa well after their parents and grandparents and perhaps great grandparents flew north (to breed or seriously prospect) and then back down south to Africa with the main body of swifts.

That said, the way these 6 or so swifts are doing exactly what 6 or so swifts did at the end of May/start of June, suggests to me that they are, at least in the main, the same birds. Not yearlings, but 2 year old birds at their youngest and perhaps 3 at their oldest.

Whatever their age  -  to anyone interested (see above) reading this - there is once again a great deal of swift activity in and around the building that you did provisionally plan to re-roof in the school summer holidays, before I warned all parties that protected birds were prospecting and or nesting in that very building.

Please note. We are keeping a very keen eye on matters from across the road - but if any interested parties *do* require any more information - well... you know how to contact me - I'd be more than happy to hear from you.

That's all for now.



[email protected] (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) Apus apus swift Mon, 04 Jul 2022 08:04:39 GMT
June buggy. June suddenly - this June bringing real heat (34C where we are) as well as a month, for me, to concentrate on our local swifts. More on that later.

June began on the 4th, with the always welcome sight for me of bee orchids appearing on my daily walks around town.

These were of course mostly mown to the ground within hours, by the environmentally-ignorant council (and I'm talking WILFUL ignorance again here, unfortunately), but at least they accidentally left one standing, to be pollinated perhaps.

The very pretty pyramidal orchids also appeared in early June, at their traditional spot on a edge-of-town roundabout too. Fewer than last year and the year before, but always good to see.

On the 5th, in the drizzle, I noticed that for the first time this year, my swift MP3 call had attracted a prospecting squadron of swifts to our gable end and in fact one alighted at my internal swift box entrance. Always nice to see.

On the 6th I noticed for the first time ever (I think) a rogue bunch of crimson clover flowering between our nearest golf driving range (which my eldest boy and I are at a lot) and a building site. A lovely flower I think - hope to see more of these!

These crimson clover flowers were soon joined by post-box red poppies. I obviously had to get a photo, even if with just my phone!

On the 8th, in favourable conditions (relatively still, relatively warm) I noticed that "our" hornet moths had started to emerge from the roots of our biggest poplar tree.

Last year something like 60 emerged in June (mainly) and early July. June 2022 brought far fewer. Fourteen at last count - and at the time of writing this post, I've only found the discarded (shed) pupal cases of these wonderful moths. I've not even seen ONE adult this year, let alone many like last year. That may change of course as we get to mid July. I hope so.

On my walks the clover flowers in particular were looking rampant this year - whole waves of red and white blooms were washing over local meadows and SANGs.

June 9th brought with it the first swift of 2022 to actually explore our swift entrance tunnel.

My eldest boy Ben witnessed this before 7am as he practiced his golf swing in the back garden - but unfortunately I didn't see it nor did I see anything similar in the rest of the month, even if I did see a few swifts land on the wall BESIDE the tunnel. That's not it for swifts though. As I'd discovered that our local prospecting swifts HAD found a site they clearly liked on the 10th June - at the school opposite our house.

On the 10th of June, Ben and I actually WATCHED swifts enter an old overflow pipe hole in the bricks of his school hall. The overflow pipe itself (from a water tank you'd assume) had been moved a few bricks to the right, many years ago - but now the swifts had discovered a potential and vacant site where the old overflow pipe used to be.

I informed the school site manager, a brilliant bloke called Steve, who informed me that CALAMITY!!!! The school was due to re-roof that building in July.  Steve kindly copied me into an email he sent the ecologist who surveyed the school for bats and I then informed everyone involved that swifts were at least prospecting (or "dry-running") or even BREEDING in the building that they were planning to re-roof in July. Any work started on that roof before the protected birds left would be a clear offence under the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act - and the Ecologist emailed me back to suggest that "I should be assured that no works will commence with active nests in place".

I am a scientist by qualification however (like the ecologist you'd assume) and try to look for evidence before being "assured" or "reassured" or forming opinions.

Fact is, many ecological surveys are just boxes being ticked not only by the owners' of the buildings being surveyed but also the ecologist surveyors themselves. Look... if a school can tick a (legal) box to demonstrate that they've undergone a (protected) bat survey (in April say) then that's pretty well that. That is all they are obliged to do. And the small firm of ecologists will duly turn up in April or even May and survey for bats, find none and no evidence of bats in the two hours that they're on site, and move on to the next paid surveying task.

They won't (often) return a few times. At different times of day (and night if necessary) on different months... INCLUDING (and this is important) on the months that the work is due to go ahead the following year. They WON'T therefore perhaps see or record protected migratory species such as swifts on their surveys at the site.

Strange this here is (and again this doesn't reassure me at all), that they DID allegedly find evidence of starlings roosting at this site (using the same entrance hole that the swifts were using in June - you can see the starlings' droppings in the photo below  -  swifts don't produce this sort of mess) and DID allegedly see what one ecologist surveyor "thought might be a swift" enter the entrance hole whilst they carried out the survey.

I'm less and less reassured now I'm afraid. They THOUGHT??!!! they saw a swift enter the entrance hole (then they must have carried out that survey in VERY late May or perhaps the first week of June) but thought nothing of it really and only found evidence of starlings.  But it took me to email them, remind them and the school and the contractors of their legal responsibilities with regards to (especially) swifts and also starlings.

I am told now that work will not take place until mid August (which I had to specify) which I've taken from  "I should be assured that no works will commence with active nests in place".  The key word is "active" here though - and so far I have little faith in ecologists who survey poorly  - this applies to many ecologists as far as I can see. (I've battled with other firms recently too who surveyed a local farm for barn owls, found none, so I had to inform them of just where ALL the owls were that they'd missed).

Be warned! I will watch with KEEN interest from over the road - as I think the swifts are  (at best) "dry-running" now, with sterile eggs, rather than actually bringing up nestlings. They're still exploring the school hall AND our house presently - they're clearly "planning" for the next years. But to disturb that planning is STILL an offence under the 1981 W&CA, any readers of this should note as this "planning" or "dry-running" is VERY much part of the breeding technique or protocol or procedure or whatever-you-want-to-call-it for the Swift. To disturb that wilfully or indeed recklessly would disturb very much the foundations being laid for these birds breeding at this site and still be a contravention of the law.

OK enough of the swifts. For now.

On the 11th, I saw the first hobby I'd ever seen from the garden, soar high over the house, checking out swifts as it did so. A real belter of a bird and Ben's 109th species for the year so far. (We're running another "Around the birds in 80 aves" challenge this year).

On the 15th I set up our moth trap in the garden in very warm weather. Weather that seemed to bring out all the "bugs". June bugs (summer chafers) which did what June bugs do each summer, buzz around the tops of trees in balmy nights then all drown in pools by the morning,


stag beetles:


Solitary, ground-nesting (mining) bees:


and of course the moths below (burnished brass, buff tip and buff ermine):


On the 17th, in (almost) record-breaking heat around 34C (photos below taken just after dawn at a favourite local meadow, the first and second with a DSLR, the third with my old phone):

...a pipistrelle bat found its way onto the floor of my wife's childhood bedroom in Shrewsbury. I learned about this unfortunate event from my mother-in-law who took the photo below

I never actually saw the bat as I was 150 miles away in Berkshire, looking at my second favourite bird - the nightjar with my eldest boy Ben on our annual "NIGHTJAR SAFARI"  - always an evening that we just love. I took a wee video of a nightjar churring and wing-clapping below. Just like barn ows in my opinion, we are SO fortunate to be able to regularly see nightjars where we live right now. Wonderful, wonderful birds.

The brief but very hot heatwave disappeared for a few days at the end of the third week of the month, so I took the opportunity to take a few more photos of a few more flowers - below you can see some birds foot trefoil (which again seems to be absolutely rampant this year) and a flowering rush.


I started this blog post with orchids and now I'll return to them. On the 20th of June, a superb surprise greeted me at dawn on my daily walk around town - not a rare orchid but a first for me in town. A common spotted orchid. Proud as you like. Just by the side of the road. I only hope those bleeding council contractors don't strim this within hours too, just like they do with everything else.

As June drew to a close, we returned to some heat  (28C) and sun (albeit interspersed with thundery showers) and watched not only one of "our" hedgehogs wander around our garden at lunchtime on a very sunny day (22nd) - always a bit worrying, but just as importantly, the squadron of normally five or six swifts return each day (primarily around 8am, once or twice during the day and again at around 930pm) scream around our house and the school opposite.

The month ended with a bit of an unwelcome visitor to our sitting room, in the form of an unexpected "pale giant horsefly" (Tabanus bovinus). I have no idea how or why it got in the house (well... other than through a window of course) but on closer inspection I realised that this was a male horsefly and not a female - so it was never going to bite anyone in the house as only the females (like mosquitos) drink blood from big mammals such as horses and cows (and occasionally humans!). 

No... the male horsefly doesn't have a great big penis dangling under its body. That's not how I identified this as a male.

Look at the first & second of the three photos below I took of this horsefly and tell me how I established this was a male?

Got it?

If you said this fly has HOLOPTIC eyes (the two compound eyes touch & meet in the middle at the top of the head) rather than  DICHOPTIC eyes (the two compound eyes are separated by a bridge or gap) and holoptic eyes are indicative of nectar-feeding males rather than blood-sucking females, then you'd be right.

But why do males' eyes meet in the middle as opposed to the females' eyes which don't?

Well... in short, the male needs bigger eyes (which are in effect, squashed together they're so big) as they need to look out for female horseflies.

Female horseflies however, basically just need to look out for HUGE mammals, which are of course MUCH bigger than horseflies.

There endeth the dipteran biology lesson for today students. Please ensure you read chapter 8 of "The Evolutionary biology of flies" published by Columbia University Press, before next week, as we'll be having a spot test on that then. 

OK, just quickly then, before I end with "my" beloved swifts.

It was nice to go on a wee walk with my eldest yesterday and have him point out interesting stuff to me for once, with his keen eyes. Firstly a knot grass moth caterpillar, clad in the beginnings of its pupal case by the look of it - although it'll do well to pupate under a tarmac road, which is where Ben found it and where I took the photo below. (We moved it to under a hedge by the way).

Also great (I think!) that Ben pointed out this rather lovely six-spot burnet moth (below) on a verge of flowers in an industrial estate that we were walking through. This moth is a big, perhaps the biggest reason why I leave our front lawn unmown - and so watch loads of birdsfoot trefoil come up under our windows. This moth LOVES birdsfoot trefoil, and we often have these beautiful moths (so much more beautiful than Cinnabar moths I think) breeding in our long front lawn.

I'm writing the end of this blog post at the very end of the month - and it would be very fair to say that the swifts that have been exploring the school opposite and our house have done so less and less as the month of June went on. I see them perhaps twice a day now, briefly, whereas earlier in the month I could see them every time I went outside and I could hear them from inside the house without even going outside!

I can only, very tentatively presume that they've seen enough of the local vacant nest sites for next year and are now just occasionally dropping by to ensure that nothing has changed. For next year that is. 

Look... I could be very wrong. We still know SO little about swifts - even the head of Swift conservation, Edward Mayer, admitted as much when I contacted him about the local swifts during June.

Anyway.... Only 4 or 5 more weeks or so and that will be that for another year. I'm already preparing to miss them you know!

I should pull myself together really eh? Live in the moment and all that. So that's what I intend to do with July.

I hope you have a great July too.

See you anon.



[email protected] (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) bee orchid birds foot trefoil buff ermine buff tip burnished brass common spotted orchid crimson clover flowering rush hobby holoptic eyes hornet moth horsefly june bug knotgrass mining bee nightjar pipistrelle bat poppy pyramidal orchid red clover six spot burnet solitary bee stag beetle summer chafer swift Tabanus bovinus white clover Fri, 01 Jul 2022 08:15:00 GMT
I have to say... I'm more than a bit gutted, really. Regular readers of this blog will (or should, surely?) know that I am somewhat obsessed with swifts.

I used to film a breeding pair in our old pad in Reading and I've spent over ten years now desperately trying to get them to nest in our post-war house, something they very often just won't do, swifts.

I've spent hundreds of pounds on boxes and tools and materials. Given them four or five spaces and boxes (internal and external) to nest in, called them in with especially-recorded MP4 calls played on amplifiers bought from the far east and set on expensive timers.

And we've had some interested swifts over the years - especially in the quiet lockdown summer of 2020, when one swift (at least) explored our internal attic space.

But NO "dry runs"  (* 3 year old swifts go through the nesting motions without actually laying any eggs the year before they do it properly) and NO nestings.

For the last two years, certainly the last one, I've noticed "our" swifts that we've literally called and attracted into our area, checking out the school buildings opposite. School buildings also built in 1953. Like our house.

And this year... well... I only bleedin' well think they're nesting there in the school buildings opposite, don't I? Well... they're either nesting or they're "dry-running" (*see above for an explanation of what "dry-running" means in terms of swifts).

Look... I'm really glad they're now "locked in" to our post war area. Swifts are almost always very reticent to nest or even explore post war buildings for potential nest sites for a couple of reasons:

1) They are slow to colonise new areas and new breeders tend to breed where or around where they were born. And that, historically, obviously, is pre war areas.

2) Post war houses and buildings tend to be smaller and neater with fewer nesting spaces (plastic soffits, neater tiles etc).

Yes... I AM glad they are now have exploited a new breeding territory. And I have no doubt that my MP4 calls over the last 10 years have made that possible. Without me calling the best birds of all down from the sky each May - they simply wouldn't be anywhere near our houses and the school opposite, let alone breeding in the school opposite.

So yes... I am glad. I am glad I've helped a few swifts set up a new breeding territory. And I still get to see them from our house each Spring.


I have to say.

In the main... I'm more than a bit gutted.

All my painstakingly-built swift spaces have wee cameras in them. All on motion-triggered recording. All are empty.

And less than 100 yards away... "my" beautiful swifts are breeding in a hole in a school wall, where an old outflow pipe once was. (I think... I'll need to ask the school caretaker about that).

Mixed feelings at best.

But still the best birds of all!

And yeah... at least I do get to enjoy the sight and sound of them now, for 3 months of every year.

That has to be a positive!



OK.... a few photos below.

Two of the hole in the school wall (left of the overflow pipe) where "my" beautiful swifts are now nesting (or at least "dry-running).

The rest of the photos below are of a hobby which passed over the garden today and a hobby looking very intently (hobbies' white frowny eyebrows always make them appear to be peering at something, angrily!)  at one of "our" swifts in the last photo.

Hobbies are pretty-well the only bird in the UK that can catch swifts (Eleanora's falcons can and do too in the Med), although in the main, they tend to prefer dragonflies - far easier to catch and probably far more juicy!

I hope "your" swifts are doing well.

Ten days to summer now...


[email protected] (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) hobby swift Sat, 11 Jun 2022 17:19:11 GMT
Look what... ... just flew over our heads as we sat in the beer garden of the Bridge House pub, Paley Street, munching on whitebait and necking pints of shandy at lunch today...

Lucky I had my camera with me, eh?


[email protected] (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) platty joobs red arrows Thu, 02 Jun 2022 15:12:06 GMT
May. Flower. Without (much!) warning, we’re almost halfway through the year then… May always acts as a reminder to me to make sure I make time to really smell the flowers along the metaphorical and literal path each year – May is where the wildlife really kicks into top gear after all.

I’m not going to pretend that this particular blog post is much of a well-structured and focused piece – it instead will reflect the veritable plethora of all life  (wildlife I mean) that has hit me in the chops during what was my late mother’s favourite month of the year (and I can see why).

OK then… where to start? I guess on the 1st day of the month?

On the 1st, we took a wee family trip to a local childrens' farm and play park ("Jake's") and on walking through reception out into the farm beyond, I immediately noticed a pair of wagtails taking what looked like dragonflies (surely too early?!) to a nest in the corner of a farm outbuilding.

Now I LOVE wagtails. They would certainly appear in my top ten (perhaps five even) birds list. Yes... if I was ever invited to give my five favourite birds on the excellent "Golden Grenades" podcast, I'd have Pied Wagtails at number 3, with the other species being 1 - swifts of course, 2 - nightjars, 3 - pied wagtails, 4 - song thrushes and probably 5 - ospreys.

That said, I didn't bring my camera (other than my phone) to Jake's playworld, so didn't get any decent photos at all of the busy wagtail parents - just a a couple of the nest and building the nest was in. 

Talking of wagtails, closer to home I was also being treated to the VERY loud mating calls of a grey wagtail setting up shop under a bridge which crossed our local river ("The Cut"). I never knew wagtails (specifically grey wagtails in this case) were so loud. Lovely to hear (and to see!).

The  bird month had started very nicely thankyou very much then... but on the 5th... that was going to turn a little sour when the neighbour's starling nest was raided by a magpie. One unfortunate starling had clambered OUT from its relatively safe position in the nest under the eaves, and become stranded and exposed in the gutter. A week or so out of the egg, it was too young and weak to clamber BACK into the nest and was pretty expertly snatched by one of the very beautiful (but deadly) local magpies.  I photographed it of course, those of a sensitive disposition might want to quickly scroll through the next few photos without looking too closely...




On the 7th May, Ben and I took a walk around a set of local gravel pits and not only did we see little ringed plovers, but we were also treated to the always wonderful sight (and sound) of our first party of swifts of 2022. We were wandering down a woodland path and I suddenly stopped and said: "Listen!". On hearing my favourite avian sound, swifts screaming in full attack mode, we looked up, through a gap in the tree canopy and saw them! Five sooty brown bow-and arrows in the air. Zipping about. Screaming. WHAT A RELIEF! WHAT A JOY! It would be two more days before we saw them around the house - but there you have it - May 7th was the first day of 2022 we saw my favourite bird back with us after nine long months away!

Also on the night of the 7th May, I set our moth trap in the back garden for the first time in 2022. Not much to report on checking it on the morning of the 8th to be honest, other than one brimstone moth and EIGHT cockchafers. Well... they are known as Maybugs after all, so I guess that fits!

Regular readers of this blog will possibly appreciate that I don't tend to bang on about what the weather was like from month to month here. Other wildlife bloggers do that and to be honest, I find reading all those weather notes incredibly tedious. I KNOW what the weather was like last month, as do you, dear reader(s) (but you WON'T know what wildlife I saw last month, which is why, I presume, you flock here in your thousands (of cells)).

That said, I will this month give a brief nod to the weather in this particular blog post. April was VERY dry across much of England and it wasn't until the 11th of May that we got any appreciable rain here for WEEKS. After the first day, on the 11th, of proper rain for perhaps over a month here in SE England, the weather warmed up a little and in came the swifts in larger and larger numbers. But (and this is a rare thing for me) I hadn't seen ANY house nor sand martins by that time. Very worrying - more on that later.


On the 15th May, Ben and I returned to the local gravel pits where this time we were treated to both ringed AND little ringed plovers. I'm not entirely convinced I'd ever seen a ringed plover at an inland body of water before, so I was very happy to see these very sweet birds oocherin' about on the pretty dry, shallow concrete works pit. The photo below does actually show both ringed plover (front) and little ringed plover (rear) on the same part of the same pit.


The rains of the 11th in particular really jump-started the flowers and plants in May (they'd all been pretty quiet - dormant even with the lack of water in the soil until mid May) and on the 17th, the yellow-flag irises around our pond started to flower. Two flowers at first but by the end of the month we'd have three dozen or so - our pond, it has to be said, has been a spectacular success in our garden.


On the 20th of May, I set our moth trap again, having heard that in the previous few nights, the southerly winds had brought with them an influx of rare striped hawkmoths to southern counties of England. Well... we got no striped hawkmoths... but we did get a brilliant poplar kitten (photos below) instead - a lovely thing indeed.


On the 21st, concerned that we'd hardly seen ANY house martins so far in the month,  I drove Ben down to my old place of work in Alice Holt forest, Hampshire, where in summers gone by, there were always dozens of beautiful, bouncy house martins nesting under the eves of the main building. 

Alas, when we got there, apart from seeing the last few green-winged orchid blooms (late May really is the end of that flower's season) ...


we saw NO house martins at all. NONE. Nada. Zip. Zilch. I hadn't been down to this place since before the pandemic, but to find in that time ALL the nests (both natural and artificial) had been abandoned, was really, really sad. OK... whilst I still think that swifts are the best bird of all, both swallows and house martins (and to an extent sand martins I suppose) are probably more aesthetically-pleasing - house martins in particular are a joy to look at. I was... no... we both were (Ben and I) really quite upset that the birds of my work summers at Alice Holt had abandoned ALL their nests over the course of the pandemic (very possibly on account of a very large new build building being erected RIGHT in front of their traditional nesting site) over the past two years). You can see the abandoned artificial nests in the photo below, under the eaves - in years gone by when I worked here, each nest would be PACKED with beautiful, noisy, glossy house martins. So sad now that they're empty and it' so quiet there.


OK. Better news now after all that doom and gloom. Late in the month I photographed a dark arches moth caterpillar which I nearly stepped on during one of my daily 5 mile walks.

This is a very distinctive caterpillar I think, which looks rather like quite a few sawfly larvae. On those walks too, I managed to see a great scorpion fly, many roe deer, quite a few beautiful bullfinches (another bird vying for a spot in my top five I think) and an incredibly loud lesser whitethroat -  as well as a pair of buzzards that use a set of goal posts at a local school to roost on - I don't know why that amuses me so much, but it does!


By the end of the fourth week of May, 'our' garden hedgehogs were really getting quarrelsome over the singular feeding station I have set up for them. In the video below, you can see two hedgehogs below really getting waaaay too close to each other at the feeding bowl. So much so in fact that I rather think I'll need to devise a new way of feeding them where they don't have to tip each other on their backs to get a gobfull of hedgehog kibbles. I'm (as you may know) VERY conscious of trying to look after the wildlife in my area, rather than look after my view of the wildlife, so I think I should get on this (redesign of hedgehog feeding station) lickedysplit. I'm sure the way it's set up at present simply just stresses them out (and makes the passage of parasites such as fleas and ticks which you'll also see in the video below) far easier.


Finally then. I've saved the best 'til last.

Ben is playing a lot of golf with me at present, and is getting very good at it. On 27th May, I decided to book us a round at Pine Ridge golf club, near Camberley. A proper, grown-up golf course in the scots pines and heathy sand belt of north Surrey. The golf was good, the weather was blistering and the course was a real delight.

ESPECIALLY on the 14th tee!

Ben walked up to his red (juniors' and ladies') 100 yards further forward than my yellow (mens') tees and as I walked to mine, I noticed a big crow attempt to scare something at the back of the tee box, on the ground in the sun.

I walked over to it - and there, sunbathing on the tee was a little adder!

I think it was about 20-22cm long and pretty thin (not too stocky really) so I expect this was one of last year's young which hibernated as an 18cm or so youngster, and was this year, intent on starting to really feed properly to get bigger - a lot bigger with any luck. After it had indulged in a spot of sunbathing of course!

I didn't have any other camera with me than the one on my phone - so I got a quick photo and a few short videos (spliced together below you'll see) then I physically-suggested to it that it might like to carry on sunbathing right at the back of the tee box, where golfers following us around the course (that would soon be on the 14th tee after us) wouldn't see it, let alone step on it.

I've seen grass snakes on golf courses before (in fact the biggest snake I've ever seen in the UK was a 150cm long grass snake in a drainage ditch on Wexham park golf course, near Stoke Poges) but I've never seen an adder on a golf course before!

I fell in love with Pine Ridge golf course on the 27th May this year then (my first time I'd ever played at this course) and I absolutely fell in love with the 14th tee (even if I didn't score too well on that hole after getting all unnecessary about an adder on the tee!).

A wonderful way to end a wonderful month.

May 2022.

[email protected] (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) adder brimstone moth bullfinch cockchafer dark arches green-winged orchid grey wagtail house martin lesser whitethroat little ringed plover magpie Pied wagtail poplar kitten ringed plover roe deer scorpion fly starling swift yellow flag iris Wed, 01 Jun 2022 07:30:00 GMT
Two questions. The answers. Six days ago I asked the reader(s?) of this blog two "what can you see?" questions.

I've left this long enough, so here are the answers.


1. Hundreds of black-headed gulls are on the island. Most facing to the left. But look closely and you'll see a large, proud gull with its white primary (flight) feathers (unlike the black tipped primaries of the black headed gulls which surround it), a proper black head (not like the chocolate brown head of the poorly-named black-headed gulls), some very noticeable white eyeliner and a bright orange beak (instead of the port-coloured beaks of the black headed gulls). This proud-looking gull is a Mediterranean gull. 



2. The three birds you can see in the photo are a) the obvious black headed gull feeding at the water's edge. b) A pied wagtail in between the two posts at the top left of the image and..... c) A little ringed plover too (see the pink arrow below).


Yes. You'll need better than eyes than that, if you want a shot at my title, you know!

[email protected] (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) little ringed plover Mediterranean gull pied wagtail Quiz answers Fri, 13 May 2022 18:27:52 GMT
They're back! Yesterday evening, around six-thirty pm, just after tea, Ben saw two swifts screaming above the house.

We had seen a few over a local gravel pit at the weekend, but yesterday was the first time we have seen them over the house this season.

May 9th then. Exactly (almost to the minute!) a week later than last year - but then again, they have allegedly been held up by cool weather and unfavourable winds over France for a week or so I hear.

Ben and I sat in the garden for an hour after seeing those first two and we counted 15 (fifteen) more between us in the next hour.

They're back. Thank goodness.

"The lucky ones" - and as is now traditional, I present to you my song for the swifts, which I play each time they come back and each time they leave.

This song MEANS swifts to me... and gives me goosebumps at the start of each May when I play it after I see my first swifts of the year and at the end of July when I watch them leave...

Close your eyes and play the below. And think of the best birds of all. The lucky ones.



[email protected] (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) apus apus swift Tue, 10 May 2022 08:19:09 GMT
Two questions. What can *YOU* see? On this blogging part of my website, I'll occasionally put forward a question to intrigue my reader(s).

Today is one such time - only today I'll ask you TWO questions.

Two photos below. Both taken by me on a walk with Ben around a local gravel pit this morning.


1. One of these things is not like the others. One of these things just isn't the same. One of these things is a little bit different. Which one is it*, come and play my game.


* And what is it?





2. What can YOU see here. Look carefully... Clue... there is more than one bird in the photo. Possibly more than two in fact? You tell me!


Answers in a day or so.



[email protected] (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) question quiz Sat, 07 May 2022 16:15:30 GMT
April. Purple reign. Finally - we've made it through five or six months of depressing, dark dankness (in the main!) and We step properly now into Spring after arriving at what *I* think is perhaps THE most exciting month of all... April.

April is when many things are born (including me - I am (of course) an April baby). When frogspawn becomes tadpoles, when many birds start to fight for and build their nests and lay their eggs, when rose chafers start their helicopter flights around compost heaps and flowering photinia bushes, when leaves start to appear en masse on trees, when woodland floors are carpeted with purple bluebells, meadow and field edges are speckled with dog violets and lilac bushes erupt into flower. If March was the yellow month then April is when purple reigns for sure.

We have three (I think) hedgehogs visiting us each night. One, the smallest, seems to be suffering pretty-badly from an overload of parasites (fleas mainly I think) but the other two (I think) seem full of energy and life. At least two of our visiting hedgehogs are male - but if I'm counting the one healthy, big one, twice - then BOTH are male. (Pretty sure we have three though - two males and one female).

We have two house sparrows now nesting in our (so-called) "tit box". No eggs yet, but they are both regularly bringing in nesting material to the camera box, after spending very early April fighting for squatters' rights. (see short video below).

Our frog spawn is now tadpoles of course and the netting has been taken off the pond as there are no more leaves to fall into the pond any more (we always wait until the sticky oak leaves have dropped - and as many readers of this blog will appreciate, oaks tend to keep their leaves all winter as brown relics UNTIL they're pushed off by the developing green buds in April).

Ben and I are still running around the local countryside like blue-arsed flies, looking for birds to add to his year list. March, as you'll remember (I'm sure) ended with a very unexpected glossy ibis - but April has been much more standard, with Ben ticking off the newly arrived and singing blackcaps, cetti's warblers and whitethroats.

I have often seen swallows arrive in the shires by the last day of March, but it took us until 17th of April this year to see our first swallow of 2022, flying around one of the many horse stables that we are surrounded by here (near Ascot and Windsor), a day after we saw and heard our first common terns. 

Other birdie highlights this month have included a red-legged partridge on my childhood golf course on April 1st (see below)

woodlarks at the local heath (see photos below), 

 a common sandpiper and a redshank (we missed both last year), a rogue barnacle goose on the 30th as well as a lovely treecreeper which we spotted on our annual bluebell pilgrimage (see photos below).

We've also managed to see garden warblers, reed warblers, sedge warblers, common terns, oystercatchers and one of our favourites - nightingales - belt out their cut glass song at a local haunt, just yesterday (30th April). We needed to leave the house at 5am for thissun. Photos of the dawn over the lakes on this nightingale hunt can be seen below. Apologies for the poor quality of the photos - both were taken with my phone.

Our annual nightingale hunt has become a tradition like our annual bluebell pilgrimage to be honest. Another reason why I (in particular) do LOVE April!

Finally, regarding birds... Ben and I have already been down to the heath to see "our" local Dartford warblers, which are very active and vocal now, bouncing about as they are on the yellow-flowering gorse bushes. Whilst oochering around on the heath, unwisely in shorts, Ben unfortunately got bitten by a deer tick. 

Now I'm VERY conscious of Lyme Disease or Borreliosis, having been bitten myself by an infected tick about 13 years ago now and having suffered (we think) and (we hope) recovered from this disease, so we caught this tiny tick (see photo below) very early and have kept it, just in case a bullseye rash appears behind Bens' knee and we have to start the battle (it's ALWAYS a battle these days) with the NHS to get treatment in time.

Regarding the photo below - what you're looking at is the bottom of a clear plastic moth collection jar with the tick flattened against the plastic. The LARGE circle at the bottom of the jar is 8mm in diameter - so that should give you an idea of just how small this tick is. Perhaps 1.5mm across. That's all.

Whilst watching Dartford warblers, redpoll and woodlarks, I took Ben to see the local ravens' nest on a radio mast situated on the heath. Ravens nest at sites year after year - like many big birds, just adding to the nest itself each year which grows as a result.

Unfortunately this year I've been dismayed to discover that BT (I think) who own the radio mast (or at least did) - have strung up a number of plastic decoy crows around the nest, in a bid to deter these magnificent (AND PROTECTED) birds from nesting.

I think the majority of these decoys (I think there are about 6 plastic crow decoys hung upside down around the mast -  including right under the nest pile itself - and at least one plastic owl decoy  - see photos below) were put up in the last few weeks - and if that is so - then that is an offence.

I've been talking with the crime unit of the RSPB regarding all this, so I'd best not say any more here.... but all I'll say right now is that even IF the radio mast owners (BT I think) haven't committed a technical offence (if they for example, strung up these decoys in the winter, before the nest site was actively returned to), it's incredibly exasperating and disappointing to think that they felt they needed to do this in any case.

The nest itself is in the middle of the tower, very high up, and would have no discernible effect on any transmitters on the tower itself nor block access to those transmitters. The beautiful ravens would only be there for a matter of weeks - then they'd be gone.

Sure... if they were bothering or taking local livestock then I'd understand if BT approached Natural England for a licence to get rid of the nest. Natural England would probably grant this licence.

But... there is no livestock being bothered around the mast. We're talking about very populated Surrey here, not the wilds of Yorkshire.

Finally - as it stands, as I write, the ravens are still checking out "their" radio mast, if not their old nest itself just yet. They DO seem flustered. I hope the RSPB think that what I'm reporting merits a proper investigation and failing that I hope the ravens still use their traditional nest site anyway.

I'll let you know when I know.


OK... that'll probably do for now other than to say... hasn't it been dry for ages down here (SE England)? Doesn't feel like we've had any sort of rain for weeks?! So with that in mind, please keep putting clean water out for birds and hedgehogs etc. They'll need it right now.

Right. That is it for now.

Days now until the best birds of all return. 

Maybe they already have for you?

Keep 'em peeled, eh?


[email protected] (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) barnacle goose blackcap bluebells borreliosis cetti's warbler common sandpiper common tern Dartford warbler deer tick dog violets garden warbler lilac lyme disease nightingale oystercatcher radio mast raven redpoll redshank reed warbler rose chafer RSPB Crime unit sedge warbler swallow tadpole whitethroat woodlark Sun, 01 May 2022 08:00:00 GMT
The lost sickle. Regular readers of this blog and anyone that knows me in "real" life, will know I don't even call myself a birdwatcher, let alone a "birder" (shudder) and certainly not a "twitcher".

I explained to my eldest boy the other day what a "twitcher" was in the car, as we drove all-of five miles to go on my first ever "twitch" to see a lost Glossy Ibis. Primarily to see it (I've never seen one before, having never "twitched" before, nor lived in sub-Saharan Africa (for example) at all.

Well... saw it we did (I took my pocket camera and got a very poor shot of it below so I could show Anna, my wife).

A Glossy Ibis.

Plegadis falcinellus.

Which literally means Sickle sickle. (Doesn't take Einstein to work out it has been so-named because of the shape of its bill).

We spent about one minute looking at this poor bird.

Oh surrre... there are a few dozen (I think) reports of glossy ibises appearing around the UK each winter (normally) - to satisfy any proper twitchers out there - and even though this species of ibis is the most widespread of all ibis species, it should be in sub-Saharan Africa with loads of its own kind right now. Or if not there, in  Australia. Or Madagascar. Or Cuba or the Dominican Republic. Or one of the "iStans". Or at a push, a nice warm spot in Italy or Southern France, Spain or Portugal.

But no.

Our Glossy Ibis was in a razor-wired compound in a sewage complex, just south of Reading, Berkshire, in the cold UK.

On its tod.

I felt quite sorry for it, to be honest, as we peered at it from 200 yards away through a razor-wired fence.

I also felt quite dirty for having "twitched" anything at all in my life - like I say, this, I guess was my first ever "twitch" after all.

And we had somewhere else we needed to be within ten minutes or so.

So we watched this glossy ibis poddle about in its puddle in the Thames water works outside Reading for a minute and then left.

I hope it finds its way south very quickly now and finds a few more of its kind.




[email protected] (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) Glossy ibis Plegadis falcinellus Sun, 03 Apr 2022 08:22:56 GMT
March. And it was all yellow. March then.

The month where I start to get excited.

The month in which Spring errr… springs into life.

The month in which days become longer than nights for the first time in six months.

The month at the end of which, the clocks go forward - and we officially enter “summertime”.

The month in which buds and nascent leaves...  ...appear on trees and grass starts growing with some vigour.


The month in which gorse bushes, daffodils, lesser celandines, dandelions and primroses erupt into a blaze of all kinds of yellow. A yellow which occasionally breaks off into the blue sky and floats away in the form of sulphurous Brimstone butterflies. I love these harbingers of spring (saw my first of 2022 on 22/3/22). Look closely and you'll see that they are actually shocking pink and yellow. Like a flying battenberg cake.

The month in which tawny owls reach their peak peskiness, in terms of loudly hooting mating calls to each other and breeding/egg-laying.

The month in which wrens and nuthatches (yes... wrens and nuthatches) battle amongst the bare branches for loudest song in the wood (I always surprise people when I point out singing nuthatches on walks and they simply never knew that those unassuming birds, together with wrens, are so DAMN LOUD!).

The month in which our frogs (in our garden) and toads (at the local toad crossing) all start (and finish in fact, this year) migrating to their spawning grounds (ponds and lakes) and spend most of the month embroiled in slippery, noisy orgies. (See photos below taken by me of a few frogs engaged in a mating frenzy with a poor? lucky? female). (Please note that the male frogs all have blue/white/grey throats and the female has a yellow, striped throat).

I’ve taken great delight this month to watch all the above. Not to mention taking Ben to see (and hear) his first singing chiffchaff of the year, and a couple of oystercatchers at a local gravel pit, en passage.  Oh… and the first Cetti’s warbler of 2022 too – belting out its song from a thicket near the water’s edge.

The bee-flies have appeared. The first white butterflies have emerged. Bluebells are almost here. The sparrows and blue tits are fighting over our camera bird box. The local jackdaws are taking beak-loads of crud off the roads with which they will line their nests.

We've had a lovely, sunny, warm week across the UK which has really gone some way to dry the ground up and stick two metaphorical fingers up at the weather of the last few weeks (oh God, I've gone and done it now, haven't I?!).

I’ve seen that there has been a white-tailed sea eagle reported nearby, briefly this month, and also yesterday a WHITE STORK OVER OUR HOUSE (I missed it… I was buried deep in a spreadsheet at work).

Finally… I’ve been acutely aware of the birds being reported waking up on my favourite local habitat – lowland heaths, with lovely photos of Dartford warblers and woodlarks spattered all over social media.

Won’t be long now, grapple fans, before the cuckoos and swallows are back. Then it’ll be the nightjars and then the swifts.

And it’s time to start getting out there and breathing it.

This is the time to get outside and drink it all in…. the chase is almost more fun than the catch after all.

I’m sure you, like me, enjoyed March. And the best two months of all are now upon us.

I certainly intend to take my time and enjoy this time of year and I hope you have the opportunity to do similar too.

More soon.



[email protected] (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) bee-fly blue tit Cetti's warbler chiffchaff daffodil dandelion dartford warbler frog gorse house sparrow jackdaw lesser celandine March Nuthatch oystercatcher primrose Spring tawny owl toad white stork white-tailed sea eagle Woodlark wren Fri, 01 Apr 2022 08:15:00 GMT
Puttock augmentation. Part 4. Getting used to these "Puttock augmentation" posts yet?

The photos below were all taken by me today from the garden... of our very vocal, very active kites... and yes... the last photo shows a kite with what I assume is a feral pigeon in its talons. 

Red arrowRed arrow KitesKites

[email protected] (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) Milvus milvus puttock augmentation red kite Tue, 22 Mar 2022 15:04:02 GMT
February. Up go the larks. February then.

The daffs are (of course) up all over the place and the first crocuses are pushing through the garden (see the photo at the end of this post).

I should have known better really than to comment on January’s (almost complete) lack of rain, for February of course has completely made up for that with storm after storm scudding across the UK, bringing with it 80mph gusts and a shed load of floods.

Storms Dudley, Eunice (in particular), Franklin and Gladys all wreaked their terrible havoc locally – so much in fact, over a week (no more) that I got very worried about “our” local barn owls – which simply will starve during periods of wet and/or windy weather as we got this month.

I took a drive past one of our barn owl roosts after Franklin and I was completely made-up to see one of our owls alive (if not well) – ready, it seemed, to leave its roost in daylight hours between storms to desperately try and catch something to eat.

I don’t KNOW that both of “our” local barn owls made it through the storms but the one I know did make it was in the far more exposed roost – so I hope both did make it. I’ll see soon enough, I guess.

Barn (in particular) owls have little business breeding in the UK – so adverse are they to inclement weather of the more northerly latitudes of the northern hemisphere. I remember going to see what were billed as the most northerly breeding barn owls in the UK, perhaps in Europe, in the mid-80s, at a nest site near Inverness. Barn owls MUCH prefer the drier, warmer climes of (for example) the Mediterranean (don’t we all?!) so I never stop counting my blessings whenever I see our local barn owls – and better still, when I see they’ve survived another period of blummin awful weather here.

What else has happened this month then?

Ah yes. I also commented last month that we’d not seen any hedgehog activity at our camera feeder since December 19th. Well… at 2am on the morning of February 7th, one of our local hedgehogs ‘got up’ after 50 nights of (the first period of) hibernation and took some food from its bowl.

It has been back to the bowl a few times since, but it may be a week or four before it’s up and running again properly, i.e. every night and completely out of hibernation. I think last winter it hibernated for 100 nights in total. That all said, it’s lovely to have it back. I so feel very, very protective of our hedgehogs.

We had another visitor to the hedgehog feeding bowl in February, albeit a fleeting visitor. You’ll see from the video clip below that a woodmouse seemed to take a liking to hedgehog food during the month – although we didn’t see it that often.

Talking of woodmice, during February again I discovered another use for my wonderful HIK MICRO OQ35 OWL thermal camera – it can locate mouse nests at the bottom of those plastic tubes which protect young sapling trees from the local roe (and muntjac) deer. I had no idea mice (or voles I suppose) use these tubes to nest in – but they seem to. The video below shows such a nest. You can see the bottom of the plastic tube surrounding the sapling tree is glowing. That is to say that it is a source of heat. (You’ll know by now, I’m sure, that the videos I take with the thermal camera tend to be shot in pitch black conditions – so it was in this case too – I couldn’t even see the plastic tubes or saplings with my naked eyes).

I wandered up to the glowing base and shone a torch down into the plastic tube - sure enough I could make out a ball of moss and grass at the bottom of the tube – in which I *knew* a mouse or vole was sitting. Yup – my wonderful thermal camera is something else you know – and a LOT of fun!



As I’ve written about quite a few times now over the years, this month was the month, as it tends to be each year, when the nation’s toads (and frogs) start to hot-foot it towards their traditional breeding ponds, along their historical migration routes which often cross roads.  Our garden pond has just "taken delivery" of a couple of dozen (or so) frogs... and I hope for more of course. Give these amphibians an overnight temperature of 9C or more and a bit of rain, in February (or March if February is really cold and/or dry) and these stunning creatures will set off – storm Eunice started the migration this year and I moved a few of them off the road which crosses their migratory route nearest to the house. Spring is coming, dear reader(s?)!

Finally, as far as this monthly round-up is concerned, a little word on little birds.

Ben and I were very lucky to see both snipe and green sandpiper on a walk around a local gravel pit during the month. You’ll obviously make out the green sandpiper in the first photo below… but can you make out the TWO snipe in the second photo? You’ll do well if you can.

Neither snipe nor green sandpiper featured in Ben’s “Around the world in 80 aves” year-list last year, so we are really pleased to add these two lovely wading birds to his list this year (I think he ends February on around 70 birds – so he has around 30 to tick off to beat last year’s total).

Another walk for Ben and I on the top of a very cold Oxfordshire ridgeway one February dawn saw us tick off skylark, corn bunting and meadow pipit too.  We also watched a large flock of fieldfare taking worms etc from the surface of a ploughed field. I (at least) wondered if that would be the last time I saw any winter thrushes this season, as it won’t be long at all now before they all chuff off back to Scandinavia. I wish them well.

It was a really uplifting dawn stroll on top of the ridgeway as the sun came up as both corn buntings and more obviously, the skylarks were out in force and singing with all the gusto they could muster, in good numbers. A lovely sound to hear at any time, let alone in the most depressing month of the year, cold, dark February.

OK… we may not be there for a few weeks yet… and now that I’ve said all this, it’ll probably snow next week…. But Spring really felt like it was on its way on that morning up at the top of the ridgeway.

I just wish it would hurry up!




[email protected] (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) barn owl corn bunting crocus daffodil frog green sandpiper hedgehog meadow pipit reed bunting skylark snipe toad woodmouse Tue, 01 Mar 2022 09:15:00 GMT
The animals went in two by two. Hurrah! Hurrah! The video below was shot by me using my superb HIK MICRO OWL OQ35 thermal camera in the pitch black of night, this morning.

I couldn't see anything with my naked eyes, but there's just no hiding from the thermal camera.

Two rabbits.

Two (roe) deer.


Two herons.

All feeding in a field at night (yes, herons often feed in fields and will eat anything from beetles through worms to small rodents).

The animals certainly went in two by two this morning. Hurrah! Hurrah!

They'll need to tonight too... well... if they're going to get out of the rain, that is.

Regarding the forecast, tonight's going to be wild and woolly, just like two years ago (almost to the night)... and I fully expect "our" and "your" toads to get migrating tonight towards their breeding ponds. The conditions are perfect - a wet and warm (over 9C) February night (just after full moon too as it happens).

Good luck little ones... and good luck to us all on Friday when storm Eunice looks set to bring us severe gales, even in the built-up south.

More soon.



[email protected] (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) deer heron HIK MICRO OWL OQ35 rabbit toad two Wed, 16 Feb 2022 21:13:28 GMT
January. Sick 'n' tired, you' bin hanging on me. Just a very quick update from me tonight, as the first month of 2022 comes to an end.

January seems to have gone on forever this year, although to be fair it often seems to for me (and many others I'm sure).

Have we seen any appreciable rain this month? I can't remember any to be honest... and as such... even our back garden lawn, comprised entirely of heavy clay loam, is for once at this time of year, useable! We've been practicing tackling rugby tackle bags and static biking - normally the lawn is a veritable quagmire each January.

Talking of the garden, whilst our hedgehog(s) hasn't(haven't) been seen since just before Christmas, a pair of house sparrows AND a pair of blue tits have been investigating our nest box this month. I suspect like most years these days, the house sparrows will win the battle for occupancy. We'll see.

All the (five) jays I've been feeding during the autumn and early winter have disappeared, so I'm saddled with something like 10KG of monkey nuts, which the couple of jackdaws and magpies aren't really getting through to be honest. A shame... I miss "my" beautiful jays... but they certainly have been all gone for about two weeks now after being CONSTANT visitors for the first fortnight of the month.

Very occasionally I feed other, smaller birds in the garden... just so we can see if we can attract a siskin or brambling or something like that, for my eldest boy's bird year list - and in that respect I have put up a couple of sunflower heart feeders which have, in turn, attracted a handful of goldfinches into the garden. Seems strange to think these days that back when I was a wee nipper, hardly ANYONE had goldfinches in their gardens, but instead they had greenfinches... but wind the clock on 40 odd years and those tables are definitely turned.

Regarding Ben's year bird list, yes... we are re-running last year's "Around the birds in eight aves" challenge. Last year we finished on 102 birds (flushing a lovely big woodcock from the 2nd hole at a golf course we were playing just before Christmas, which became our final species of the year) and this year Ben has said he'd like to try and beat that total. We're doing OK I guess. I took Ben to our local barn owls before dawn on New Year's Day, with his eyes closed UNTIL I spotted a barn owl and told him to "open your eyes now!" so he could chalk up "BARN OWL" as the first bird he saw in 2022 - who else can say that?! 

Now, regarding Barn owls - we've (Ben and I) seen both local owls interact with each other at dawn in January. They are using separate roosts at present, mind, about 400M apart. I've also found a new (3rd) barn owl pretty locally too... in pitch black conditions - with my wonderful thermal camera. We are SO lucky to have these beautiful owls so close to us.

NB. More than one person has written to me via this blog, asking for directions to see these owls. If those of you that wrote to me are reading this please know this - I made a terrible mistake of showing one "birder" (shudder) another barn owl roost a few years ago - and instructed him not to tell anyone or disturb the owl. I caught him and one of his "birder" (shudder again) friends sticking a camera into the barn owl's roost a few days later.  I politely (using all of my 200lb and 75 inches) "asked" them to leave and never come back. They haven't been back.  Just as well. So... sorry "birders" who write to me asking for barn owl directions, because of the actions of one of your own (a "birder" that is), I vowed never to tell anyone where certain birds are again. My family know where I watch the owls... and that will be that. Sorry.

Other notable birds for Ben's 2022 check list in  January have been GREAT WHITE EGRET, MARSH TIT, MANDARIN DUCK, GOLDENEYE and GOOSANDER. We've also been lucky enough to see LITTLE OWLS very locally (regular readers of this blog may remember I used to film breeding little owls in 2012 and blog here about them, but they disappeared a year or so after that and up until a couple of years ago, they seemed to be permanently gone - so it's lovely to see them back with us).

We've finished Ben's 2022 list for January on 67 species - with grey and then red-legged partridge. Always nice to see I think. Both birds.

There's really only more thing to say I think, regarding January.

During the summer, I occasionally see a noctule bat hunting in straight lines, high over our garden on warm, still, clear evenings. I'm always excited by that sight. I do happen to know (of course I do) that when we moved here about ten years ago, a colony of noctule bats lived in the roof of an old Scuba diving shop, just up the road. 

That Scuba diving gear shop closed down (as it would really... there's not too much scope for Scuba diving adventures in East Berkshire) and became a vets surgery instead. Now... when the surveyors checked the attic of the old shop, they found the colony of bats - and so took the roof off, tile by tile, brick by brick, by hand - as of course all bats are protected species.

This is MEANT to mitigate any disturbance to the bats... but rather like those bumblebee boxes you can buy (no bumblebee has EVER nested in any shop bought bumblebee box... in case you didn't know) ... and the bat bridges that developers are TOLD to erect when they disturb bats (NEVER WORK) this never works. The bats just bugger off and you just have to hope they find somewhere else to roost.... or... yes... they die, to be blunt.

The vets are (obviously) interested in animals, so were probably feeling quite guilty about disturbing the protected and rather handsome noctule bats in their roof... so they put up a bat box on the telegraph pole next door... hoping to attract the bats back.

Look... I don't *know* if the attic bats all decided that this tiny bat box on a telegraph pole was a suitable substitute for their destroyed attic roost, but let's be frank... I doubt it. 

I only mention this as I've known that there was supposed to be a bat box by this vets' for a few years (having been interested to know where the occasional noctule above our house comes from) but only looked for and eventually found this bat box this January.

Like I said, I don't think for a second any self-respecting bat would shack up in this rather exposed bat box, next to a busy road... but you never know I guess. I'll have to watch it in the summer, with my thermal camera eh?

Right then.

That's January done.

Less than 100 days now until the swifts are screaming around our houses again...

Until next time...



[email protected] (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) 2022 barn owl bat box goldeneye goosander great white egret grey partridge January jay little owl marsh tit red-legged partridge Mon, 31 Jan 2022 19:50:48 GMT
Bat and buzzard. Just got home at 16:35 from another busy afternoon (which might explain the lack of blog posts recently), to see a BAT fly around the garden in the gloom!

I occasionally see winter bats, in fact I saw a few with my eldest boy two years ago almost to the day, but they're pretty rare things.

The last few days have been bananas though, weather-wise, haven't they? 16 Centigrade? At the very end of December? Come off it?!

Actually this is relatively worrying. Not only is this becoming a trend (see again this post two years ago), plants (especially) and many animals NEED the cold for a few weeks. I hope trees don't start budding etc soon, as any new growth will almost certainly be killed by the frosts and cold "snap" if and when we get one.

Our hedgehogs seemed to start to hibernate in the fourth week of December this year (so around the 22nd). I wonder if they're already getting a bit warm and restless and we'll see them on the hedgehog cam again this week?

One other recent garden point to note - we've recently had a big, beautiful buzzard alight (for the first time that I've seen) IN our garden a week or three ago (photos below).

Finally - Ben (my eldest boy) made the end of his "around the birds in eighty aves" challenge tonight.  We were lucky enough to see a few goosander the other day on a local lake and then accidentally flush a beautiful woodcock from the 2nd hole at Greys Green golf course in Oxfordshire the other day... those were his one-hundredth-and-first and one-hundred-and-second species of this year's challenge. 102 it is then. Which he hopes to beat next year.


That better be it for now.

Happy New Year, grapple-fans.

Let's all hope (I'm sure) for a far better, far healthier 2022 eh?

TBR and family... and jays...



[email protected] (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) around the birds in eighty aves bat buzzard happy new year hedgehog Fri, 31 Dec 2021 17:08:58 GMT
Jpegs. I know. Hardly the most aesthetically-pleasing perch and feeder for "our" local jays in the garden, but I don't feed the jays to make the feeder look pretty. I give the jays what they want and give very little thought to what my (bespoke, unique) jay feeder actually looks like.

I've fed no other wild birds in the garden for years now. Just jays. Stunning birds.

Today we had five visit the garden all day (five at one time at lunch) but my record for the garden is eight at one time, a few years ago.

We had a bumper acorn crop locally last autumn, so my jay feeder didn't attract any jays back to the garden for the winter. This season though is very different. No acorns at all locally, meaning I'm going through sacks of "jay food" and they're flocking to my "yard" at present.

All good. I do adore these garrulous, gaudy crows.

[email protected] (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) Garrulus glandarius jay Sun, 28 Nov 2021 19:51:13 GMT
Ton-up! The regular reader(s) of this blog may remember I set my eldest (8yo) boy a challenge this year to see 80 different bird species from January 1st to December 31st - a modest target yes, but a modest target built on January 1st to encompass any potential limiting lockdowns on his avian quest.

He saw 34 species on January 1st, got to the 80 (target hit) by my birthday on April 14th and today... made 100, with the sight of three female goosanders on a local gravel pit.

Ton-up then.

With over a month to go before he can stop counting!

Congratulations Ben - well done son. I'm very proud of you!

Next year we'll have to try for 120 eh?!


NB. This challenge was devised with my basic birdwatching rule in place - don't go out solely to "birdwatch" or god forbid "bird" or Jesus Christ, "twitch". Go out and enjoy the countryside, keep your eyes and ears open and see what you can see. Plants, insects, mammals, fish, scenery, whatever! I think he's pretty-well managed that - and that just makes me even more proud. 

I suppose the highlights of the list are: barn owl (the 8th bird seen on the list - seen on January 1st!), kingfisher (Ben's favourite bird, despite me insisting it should be swift!), nightjar, Dartford warbler, great white egret (the rarest bird at least in Britain on the list) and finally goosander for being the 100th bird.

The full list can be seen below.





[email protected] (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) around the birds in eighty aves Sat, 20 Nov 2021 20:16:26 GMT
Certificate 18. The last time I blogged about a hawk killing a pigeon or dove we were pre pandemic and pre Brexit even. Remember those heady days?

Eight years or so on, at the weekend, a female sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus) took and killed a Collared Dove (Streptopelia decaocta) in our back garden.

It did so, very helpfully in front of our conservatory - and even though the outside windows of our conservatory are pretty dirty right now, shooting through them with a combination of Canon 6D and 7Dmkii and a 400mm f5.6 lens, I managed to get some pretty decent shots (below).

Now, before you look at my photos, a word or eight or ten about the title of this post. "Certificate 18".

If you click on "Accipiter nisus" above, you'll be transported to my old website on zoological nomenclature, in which I started to go into the meaning behind the classical names of some of our bird species - the sparrowhawk and its scientific name of Accipiter nisus being one example.

I never got around to explaining the origin of the scientific or classical name of the collared dove, Streptopelia decaocta, though. I'll remedy that now if I may?


Strepto. From the Greek Streptos for collar.

Pelia. From the Greek Peleia for dove.


Deca From the Greek Dec for Ten.

Octa From the Greek Oct for Eight.

The specific name (Decaocta) for the collared dove has its roots, like many avian scientific names in classical Greek mythology.

"Decaocta" was a sad housemaiden who tirelessly cleaned after her masters - and was only paid eighteen coins for her work in the entire year.

She was constantly complaining to the Gods about her work and salary and taking pity on her, they freed her from her earthly slavery by turning her into a dove. A collared dove, as it happens.

However she would have to spend all eternity sadly singing her salary amount, constantly throughout her life.

Now, as we all? know, the collared doves' song consists of a basic "ku kuuuuuu ku"  (3 syllables, with an emphasis on the second).

If they can though, and they're not disturbed mid-song, collared doves like to repeat this 3 syllable song six times.

Making.... you've got it.... 18 syllables in total.

18 syllables for 18 coins.

Decaocta. Eighteen.

The sad-calling collared dove meeting a very certificate 18 death - having her chest muscles removed by a hawk, whilst she was still very much alive.


[email protected] (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) Accipiter nisus Collared dove sparrowhawk Streptopelia decaocta Mon, 15 Nov 2021 16:45:28 GMT
WPOTY. All at sea now. Last October I repeated my 2019 dismay about the results of the 2020 Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition.

I'm afraid I'm even more dismayed this year.

I honestly think this prestigious competition has completely lost its way now. 

As last year, I'll quickly talk about this year's Grand winner, then give one word critiques of a few shots I think shouldn't have been included as finalists, let alone been commended or win categories - then I'll give you a link to my favourite image of the finalists.

Please note, as always... these are just my personal opinions. You're more than entitled to disagree of course.

OK then. 

Firstly the Grand Winner.

I find the image uninteresting, uninspiring, dull and messy. I think the fact that two of the subjects are half-in and half-out of shot to be accidental and not deliberate. I find the composition (or lack of thought behind the composition) unnerving - again... I would strongly suggest that is accidental too...

I assume that is moonlight filtering down from above... but now I think of it... it can't be can it? It's just another lamp or flash held above the water by the photographer's "team".

Even the subject itself, the (French Polynesian) Camouflage Groupers are far from being interesting or exciting or spectacular fish.  I'm not told anything new by this photo. I'm not interested in it. In short I honestly think this is a bad photo. A bad image. 

Finally I think the title of the image itself is contrived. Treacly. Why not just call it "MILT". Or "All at sea". As that is what I think of the image.



A few one word critiques:









Finally then... a couple (not just one) of links to my favourite two images.











[email protected] (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) 2021 wildlife photographer of the year wpoty Wed, 20 Oct 2021 11:51:54 GMT
A hot mouse. I know, I know, I've not blogged for a month now. Truth be told it's been helter skelter at work over the last four weeks and evenings & weekends have been spent just sorting out the boys and drawing the odd breath.

So... just a quick post today, just to let the regular reader of this blog know I'm still alive. Just!

A few nights ago, just before we retired to bed at around 2230hrs, I stepped out of the back door into the inky black of the night, with my thermal camera pressed to my eye. On the lookout for hedgehogs primarily, as we are, I think, down to one hedgehog visiting us each night now, down from four (I think) earlier in the year.

I didn't see any hedgehogs through the thermal camera, but I DID see an interesting small, bright, heat source at the far end of the garden, 40-50 yards away (we have quite a large garden) sitting on top of the chicken coop in our chicken run. Again, the regular reader(s) of this blog may know that whilst we used to keep hens, and we intend to again when the boys can help look after them and themselves to an extent, we've not kept hens for a few years now and the chicken run is presently full of bikes, garden tools and bits and bobs - no hens live there at present.

I walked up the garden videoing what I saw through my thermal camera - and the short video can be seen below.

NB. There is NO sound on these thermal clips. The quality of footage isn't 4K or even HD either.

That said, I think (hope) you'll agree that this clip shows the stunning power of my wee HIK MICRO OWL OQ35.

Please understand, I couldn't even see the chicken run or coop in the pitch black 45 yards away when I shot this video, let alone a mouse sitting on the chicken coop.

Incredible - the stuff I can see in total darkness, with this bit of kit!

OK that shallot for now - I'll try and return soon with a little blog post on the return of "my" jays to the garden - the first time we've attracted jays to our garden for two years now after they failed to return at all last winter.

More soon.


[email protected] (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) Apodemus sylvaticus HIKMICRO OWL OQ35 thermal camera woodmouse Mon, 27 Sep 2021 11:21:58 GMT
Watching owls with an owl.

Late last night, in the pitch black (the low, orange, full moon was touching the horizon and casting no shadows at that time) I thought I'd take the opportunity to drive to our local barn owl site and see if any were still around.

We tend to only get to see them in the winter as from April to saaaaay October, it's often too light at the times we can get up to their place and as such they're tucked away in their roost, asleep.

This week though, my wife and boys have taken a week in the midlands to see their parents/grandparents so I have a little time to myself AND the opportunity to take my wonderful thermal telescope which my wife bought me for my birthday this year up to "owl-ville" to see wha g'wan.

Long story short is we DO have two adult barn owls hunting very close to their roost* and calling to each other, at the tail-end of breeding season, surrounded by tawnies, by the sound of it last night.

*Yes. Two adult owls hanging around their roost at the end of breeding season and calling to each other *does* perhaps suggest young are being brought-up. That said, adult barn owls often hunt away from the nest when taking food to the young, so when the young DO eventually fledge, they can learn to hunt right next to the safety of the nest site and roost. They did seem to be hanging around their roost or nest so perhaps they don't have young... or.... maybe... the two owls I saw and heard last night WERE this year's young birds? I got a very short thermal video of one of the owls checking me out last night in the pitch black and I'm pretty sure it was an adult and not a fledged youngster - but of course I could be wrong - it was pitch black after all and the "OWL OQ35" thermal camera, stunning though it is, couldn't reveal that sort of detail to me.

By the way, I know the thermal footage below makes it LOOK quite light when I recorded the flying owl. It wasn't. It was pitch black. These cameras are something else!

I'll leave the owls alone now for a few weeks - I certainly didn't disturb them last night in the dark (I was quite a way from their roost or nest) but I don't want to tempt fate, even with a thermal scope rather than something far more intrusive like a big camera and flash guns (I see these sort of photos all over social media - terrible really - these are, again might I remind people, Schedule 1 birds with special protection!).

Lovely to know they're still around though - and wonderful to perhaps think they may be bringing up young this year.

We'll see eh?


[email protected] (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) barn owl HIKMICRO OWL OQ35 thermal camera Tue, 24 Aug 2021 13:00:25 GMT
It's like a Disney film here right now. Just beautiful. There are yellow butterflies dancing around our borders.

Blue and scarlet metallic-plumaged swallows chirruping overhead.

Bumblebees busying themselves on our flowers.

Bank voles climbing into our hedges.

Red kites soaring overhead, whistling to each other in the blue skies.


And a pile of dog vomit (slime mould fungus (Fulgio septica)) on our wood-pile & a dead pigeon hanging off the neighbour's gutter for some reason*. 


Just beautiful.


* I assume it got its beak or head caught in the gutter grill rather than it consciously decided to sod it and end it all (as its life had become unbearable).

I could of course, be wrong.


[email protected] (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) dead pigeon dog vomit Fulgio septica slime mould Mon, 23 Aug 2021 09:33:06 GMT
Twenty wildlife facts. No. Not opinions. FACTS. Feel free to disagree of course. Everyone has the right to be wrong!

[email protected] (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) wildlife facts Sat, 21 Aug 2021 09:33:39 GMT
The Hawk Conservancy Trust (again). Two years ago (almost to the day again) my eldest son and my wife and I visited the wonderful Hawk Conservancy Trust, outside Weyhill, near Andover, Hants.

Today we did so again.

Some photos that I took today are reproduced below (all taken with a Canon 7Dmkii or a Canon 6DMki and a Canon 400mm f5.6 lens).

Please note that I've not "removed" the background in the photos of the birds with white backgrounds... the light was so bad today (or good, depending on your viewpoint... it was overcast all day anyway) that when I shot photos of birds with the grey sky in the background, I deliberately overexposed the shot to bring out the detail in the subject (the bird) and also blow out the background (make it very light).

The result is a load of "clean" images, which I'm afraid either are your thing (in many cases they are my thing) or they're not.


[email protected] (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) The Hawk Conservancy Trust Fri, 13 Aug 2021 18:25:17 GMT
I see grayling. Again. But can YOU? Two years ago, almost to the day, I blogged here that my family and I took a walk through our local HUGE forest (Swinley Forest that is) and we chanced across a few of our largest of brown butterflies, the cryptically-camouflaged Grayling butterfly.

Today, we happened to do the same.

But can you see it?


[email protected] (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) Grayling grayling butterfly Hipparchia semele Thu, 12 Aug 2021 17:21:18 GMT
Each year. Just like clockwork. Sigh.

I've just read again on my news feed that the daily express, who seem to do little else than write about the weather and princess Diana (still) have forecast another "Indian Summer" in August and September this year.

Goodness me.



Yes. Really.

This happens every year these days. The dribbling morons all get together and call late summer (in ACTUAL summer) an "Indian Summer".

Look, I'm all for the evolution of language. That's fine.

But. (Here's the but).

1) You LITERALLY cannot have an Indian Summer IN SUMMER.

 2) Nor can you have an Indian Summer before the first killing frost (around October, perhaps even later).

Indian summers CANNOT occur in August, nor even in September (at least not in the first three weeks of September) despite the Express writing that  the definition of an Indian Summer is :

Astronomical Autumn starts this year in the UK on 22nd September, in forty-five days as I write this.

Even "Meteorological autumn" (A (false) concept purely brought into existence to satisfy those people wishing every season started on the 1st of each month rather than the 21st or 22nd or 23rd depending on which year and which season it was) doesn't begin for another twenty-four days.

But even if you are one of those knuckle-draggers who thinks that Autumn truly begins on the 1st September and therefore box 1) above is ticked -we've moved out of summer when we leave August, we STILL can't have an Indian summer before the first killing frost (often no earlier than October and not even early October) - so I'm afraid you've not ticked box 2).


I know. We all know why these warm spells in September or even August sometimes, are described by those with very pronounced Neanderthal brows as "Indian summers". It's because they think an Indian summer literally means a warm period in the second half of summer.  But it doesn't mean that. It really doesn't.


Indian summers don't happen in August. Nor even September. And not often in October.

They're much more likely to happen in November than any other month here in the UK. And perhaps as late as December.


You heard me.





Finally (until next year) then.

The period of warm weather that has been forecast again can be described again, NOT as an Indian summer... but just a period of summer warmth (in the 2nd half of (actual) summer).

And whilst I'm here... that big iron bird in sky that you are pointing your club at... no that's not an iron bird either.

That's an AEROPLANE.

Say it with me.

A E R O. P L A N E.




[email protected] (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) indian summer Sun, 08 Aug 2021 10:39:53 GMT
Oranges, raspberries & cream... My wife, eldest son and I went for a fifteen mile mountain bike ride around Swinley Forest this week - in the beautiful weather (where's that gone?).

When we (eventually?) move from this generally God-forsaken part of the world, south-east England that is, lowland heathland and forests like that of Wildmoor heath and Swinley Forest is what I'll miss most about the area. In fact it may well be the only thing I miss. I feel INSTANTLY at home on lowland heaths and forests - and I love being in such places in warm weather, hunting for Dartford Warblers, Wasp Spiders, Nightjars, Adders, Hobbies, Redstarts, Grayling butterflies, Tiger beetles, Crossbills and Emperor Moths.


And Silver-washed fritillary butterflies.

Amongst the loveliest things our eyes feasted on during our day in the forest this week were the big, fast-moving, bright orange Silver washed fritillary butterflies - dancing around the hemp agrimony together.

These spectacularly-pretty butterflies are pretty-well a butterfly of south-east England and whilst they can often be seen in the height of summer flying quickly down sunbathed forest rides, they breed in the wood proper, in the shade. I used to watch them a bit around the Alice Holt arboretum in Surrey (I used to work alongside the arboretum) - but it was very nice to show them to my wife and eldest boy this week, even if he did prefer watching the more-obviously-spectacular Peacock butterflies!

We have nine fritillary butterfly species in the UK and with a wingspan of around 7.5cm, the silver-washed fritillary is our largest of these striking orange and black butterflies of high summer. SWFs suffered a big population decline in the 1970s and 1980s but perhaps at least in part due climate change and our warmer(?) summers, numbers are now on the up once more.

Yup. All very well. But what of the weird title to this blog post?

Well... the Silver-washed fritillaries are large, bright orange butterflies that as I've written above, can be found flying powerfully down woodland rides in the summer - pausing mainly only to check out bright orange things to see if those orange things are females that can be mated. 

Take a walk through Alice Holt forest, or Swinley forest for that matter, wearing a black or green shirt with orange patterns on it, or holding some orange toys on a piece of string - and you'll be IRRESISTIBLE to these big, randy, orange butterflies.

There's something else that these beautiful butterflies find irresistible too - "raspberries and cream".

No. Not ACTUAL raspberries and cream, but hemp agrimony - also known as raspberries and cream.

I got a load of photos of the SWFs gorging themselves on their RAC - I just wish I'd bought my better camera with me on our bike ride, as these butterflies were being the perfect models and the photos I took with my pocket camera didn't really do them justice.



Before I go.

A little about the SWFs scientific  (and indeed French) name (you know I can't resist).

Argynnis paphia.

Argynnis  (Argynnos) was the beautiful boy who King Agamemnon fell in love with as he watched him swim naked across the Boeotian Cephissus river. Poor Argynnis drowned during his swim and Agamemnon was so distraught he buried him and built a shrine to Aphrodite Argynnis. (The boyhood love).

Argynnis was, in 1807, the family name that Fabricus gave to all the large fritillary butterflies, which had earlier (in 1804) been called 'perlati" by Latreille, on account of the pearly markings under their hind wings. One could reasonably assume that Fabricus chose the name "Argynnis" at least in part due his fondness for wordplay and the fact that Arguros means silver in Greek - the silvery, pearly, colour of the markings on these butterflies' underwings would make this play on words very apt.

Paphia literally means from Paphos (Cyprus). In this case it could also mean Aphrodite, the goddess of love too. Aphrodite came to be near Paphos on the island of Cyprus (at Aphrodite's rock actually, where I was lucky enough to be as it happens, watching a total lunar eclipse in  August 1989, a few weeks after my A levels). Aphrodite is sometimes referred to as Paphia, the goddess from Paphos - and this would certainly fit in with the Aphrodite Argynnis shrine that Agamemnon built for his dead boy love.



Finally then.

The French name for the Silver-washed fritillary is the Tabac d'Espagne. (Spanish tobacco).


I don't get it either. 

Perhaps someone reading this veritable word salad penned by me today on these butterflies, can help me out.

Until then.

Get out(side).




[email protected] (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) argynnis paphia silver-washed fritillary spanish tobacco Fri, 06 Aug 2021 14:55:29 GMT
Ninety-two days... ... since I saw my first two lucky ones over the garden, exactly three months ago to the day on May 2nd ... and they're still here... just.

The photo above was taken by me (of course) last night, just before dusk. I see around a dozen or two each night in the hour between eight and nine pm. I need to say goodbye each time they leave, you know!

And they ARE going - we may well not make one hundred days.

It took them a month and ten days to start exploring the tunnel to our attic swift space this year (on 12th June) and as I said at the time, those would almost certainly have been two (or less likely three) year old birds prospecting for a year or two in advance.

We've seen swifts every day around the house or over the garden since May 2nd, but in contrast with last year, the season as a whole has been very disappointing to be honest. As far as I can tell, we've had NO visitors INSIDE our attic swift space, unlike last year, even if we've had a good two or three or four alight on and in the entrance tunnel to the attic swift space.

I had very high hopes that this year, our tenth (yes, tenth!) go at attracting my favourite birds (by far) back into our attic would finally produce the goods this year, but alas, those hopes were misplaced.

The weather didn't help to be honest (again unlike last year which was scorchio). We've had a pretty dreadful May, weather-wise... and I know that many swifts were either late back to their nest sites this year or didn't breed again because of the lack of half-decent weather and food therefore.

Swifts eventually had a reasonable year across the country, even if they were a little late off the mark. Much better than the swallows and house martins I hear which were VERY late back to nest sites, if they returned at all in some places.

But... never mind eh.

On the upside, we've had the best part of a hundred days watching these magnificent wee beasties scream around our house in their chocolate brown racing colours and like the last year or two we've had them shout back at our MP4 calls all season and at least land at the entrance tunnel to our swift space.

We live in a post-war town and I'm far from convinced swifts have ever lived in any numbers in the area (unlike our place in Reading which was swift central it seems!).

We keep going.

We try again next year.

And we live in hope.


For now... I wish all the UK swifts good luck and very safe passage back to sub-Saharan Africa - and then even better luck on their return to our shores next April and May.

I will be waiting.


For the lucky ones....

I'll leave you with my swift song - which I play each time they leave and again... each time they return. I hope you do so too now...





[email protected] (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) apus apus swift swifts Mon, 02 Aug 2021 16:14:55 GMT
The "Destroying Nun" and the "Ochre-anointed red lead". We've run our fancy new garden moth trap a few times this summer and picked up a few nice specimens so far.

Last night we picked up two firsts for the garden which I thought I'd briefly write a little bit about today.


Moth 1 - Black Arches Moth. Lymantria monacha. Which literally means The Destroyer (Lymantria (Grk)) Nun (Monacha (Lat)).

Rather like the Gypsy Moth, which we caught in the old trap last September and I blogged briefly about here, the Black Arches is sometimes thought of as a "pest" species as its larvae can strip trees (often oak trees) bare - and that is why it has a Generic name of Lymantria  -  it is a tussock moth species that can and does do real damage in large numbers.

That said, I love these Black Arches moths, rather like I love the pesky, pesty Hornet moths. I first saw a Black Arches (male) when one came to our campsite lantern in the New Forest a few years ago when Anna and I spent a few nights at our favourite spot in the forest - but until today I'd never seen one here in Berkshire.

The males do often come to light at night, less so the females, and they are STUNNING moths I think - in their black and white colours - which also give them their specific name of monacha - meaning Nun (as their black and white colour reminded naturalists of nuns' habits).


Moth 2 - Rosy Footman. Miltochrista miniata. Which literally means "Anointed with" (Christa, yes, like Christ, the anointed one) "red earth or miltos" (Milto) Red lead (miniata from minium).

This wee moth is simply stunning - and is yet another example, should you need one, that moths are at LEAST as fantastically-coloured as butterflies - if not more so, to be honest.

It isn't red as such though, is it?

It's more of a salmon pink.

Never mind eh?



[email protected] (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) black arches lymantria monacha miltochrista miniata rosy footman Mon, 19 Jul 2021 15:06:48 GMT
Exuviae... while I kiss the sky. Just a few photos of some of the Southern Hawker dragonfly exuviae removed from our pond yellow flag iris or water lily leaves this week.

[email protected] (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) Aeshna cyanae dragonfly exuvia exuviae southern hawker Wed, 14 Jul 2021 12:41:50 GMT
Two more SPECTACULAR firsts... A very quick blog post today (which I may add to if time allows).

Two lovely firsts for me (and my eldest boy) in the last two days.

1) Yesterday we (my eldest boy and I) took our mountain bikes onto the trails of Swinley Forest, to test his new speedometer/odometer, to get some fresh air and also to see if we could add to his bird tally of 94 (for his (original) "Around the birds in eighty aves" quest, which we actually completed in April this year, so have increased the total target from 80 to 100).

We were I suppose, specifically on the lookout for Crossbill, redstart, hobby and if at all possible, Dartford Warbler.

Well... we didn't see any Crossbills. Nor Redstarts. Nor any hobbies. But we DID see THREE Dartford Warblers - and they were... magnificent! I'd never seen Dartford Warblers before in my life, but the last time we mountain biked around the heaths of Swinley Forest, I certainly HEARD one - so I thought we'd return and really try and FIND one.

No photos unfortunately, but a lovely sight to see - and yet another reminder for me, if I needed one (I don't!) that I really LOVE lowland heaths in England - with the right weather, I really feel like I'm on holiday in the Med, each time we visit!


2) I dug my (our) garden pond nine years ago. About 5 months after we moved in. And a few months before my eldest was born. I was roundly told by more than a few people that I was MAD to dig a pond in the garden with a baby on the way. I regarded them as mad NOT TO, to be honest. It's not like I would allow any baby or toddler access to the pond on their own. (And I fenced it off from the rest of the garden too - not even our chickens, which we kept at the time) could get close to the pond). Ben loves looking for frogs and newts and lilies in our pond -I'd have LOVED one myself as a boy - and I'm sure little Finn will enjoy it too when he gets a bit older.

It's been a stunning success our pond. Especially for frogs and newts (dozens and dozens of newts this year). But not so much for dragonflies.  Oh sure, I've seen hawker and darter and chaser odonates zip around the garden each summer, but these wonderful insects never seemed that interested in our lovely pond. I'd never seen any large dragons emerge from our pond. Only damsels. And to be honest, not too many of them either.

That all changed last week when I noticed at least TWO hawker-shaped dragonfly nymphs explore the surface of the pond.

And this morning.... this happened.


I DID (you'll see) get a photo or two of this - and I'm very pleased to report that ten years (or so) after digging our pond, we DO finally have large dragons (Southern hawkers I think... but my famous Uncle would know at a glance) emerging from our pond - a first for us.

Have a lovely week.


[email protected] (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) Aeshna cyanea Dartford Warbler southern hawker Sylvia undata Mon, 12 Jul 2021 11:36:36 GMT
The speedy spotty body The golf course that I used to play a lot at, as it was about 60 seconds away from the house, was bought by developers a few years ago and now has a school and dozens of new "hyses" built on it.

That said, a significant part of the old golf course has been left to "re-wild" as such, but with a few ponds dug in for good measure - and to be fair, this part of the old golf course is really lovely at this time of year. 

The whole area is awash with wild, natural flowers and it hums with insects, presently.

I happened across this chap(pess?) on my brief 'poddle' through the flowers this morning.

A moth caterpillar.

A "White Ermine" moth caterpillar to be (literally) specific.

But how can you tell? I hear you cry. (Well... I obviously can't hear you cry that right now, but generally whenever I identify a beastie, people around me immediately tend to say the same thing: "How do you KNOW that"?)

I'm tempted, at times like that to answer along these lines:

"How do I KNOW you're a human? Because, well... you obviously are a human. Clearly".

"How do I KNOW that big flying thing up there in the clouds is a jumbo jet?  Simply because it LOOKS like a jumbo jet. Nothing else looks like that".

After 40 odd years of arseing about in the countryside, learning to identify many things, those sort of answers are tempting, sure, but not very helpful to anyone.


To expand a bit.

Caterpillars can often be identified by what plant they're on.  Actually, this reminds me of a wider point which I'm constantly pointing out to my eldest son. Don't identify things by their appearance firstly.  Before looking at what they look like look firstly at:

a) Where they are. What habitat. What plant.

b) What they are doing (are they eating, mating, calling, flying, hiding, displaying)?

c) When you see them (what time of year) and indeed under what conditions. Is it windy? Dry? June? December? Wet? 

OK... to return to our caterpillar - it was on ragwort. Which would often point to a cinnabar moth caterpillar of course. But this clearly is no yellow and black stripy cinnabar moth caterpillar. So it is a species of moth which is a bit generalist and CAN take the poison of ragwort.

It was sunny this morning and early July. Peak time for many moth caterpillars to be honest, so that doesn't help much.



It's hairy. Very hairy. Furry to be honest. But not in a giveaway fashion (like a pale tussock or a vapourer or even a drinker). So we're possibly looking at something like a tiger moth (of some description), a fox moth or an ermine moth (of some description).


And it has a pretty-obvious orange dorsal line, running down the length of its body.


This then would make it a "White ermine" moth, as no other ermine moth has this distinctive orange (or red or dark cream) dorsal line.

That's how I know what it is, in this case.

A very nice find.



What of the title of this blog post? What am I banging on about now?

The regular reader(s?) of this wildlife blog may know I like my scientific names and should probably briefly go into the scientific name of this moth.

The white ermine moth's scientific name is : Spilosoma lubricipeda.  

Lubricipeda from lubricipes. Swift-footed. (Speedy). The caterpillar doesn't half get a wriggle on, unlike many more ponderous larvae.

Spilosoma from  the Greek spilos (a spot) and soma (the body). Many ADULT ermine (and tiger moths) have obvious spots or blotches along their hidden abdomens.

There you have it then, the "speedy spotty-body". ("speedy" referring to the caterpillar and "spotty-body" referring to the adult).

The (beautiful) white ermine moth.


Have a lovely weekend,



[email protected] (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) Spilosoma lubricipeda White ermine moth Thu, 01 Jul 2021 12:03:52 GMT
Horrible (natural) histories (and introducing the "kairomone"). Hmm.

Not sure I am settled on the title of this blog post as I often baulk at calling some less aesthetically (or otherwise) -pleasing nature "horrible" or "evil" or "nasty" as many do.  

Hey ho. Let's proceed anyway.

OK then. As Max Bygraves might have once said: 

"I wanna tell you a storrrrry".

About a horrible fascinating biological relationship, or perhaps, a set of biological relationships to be exact.

Grab a glass of your favourite poison and I'll begin.



You'll recognise the below (I'm sure) as a few Large (or "Cabbage") White butterfly (Pieris brassicae) caterpillars - on what is nothing more than a Hedge Garlic plant (Alliaria petiolata). Normally, it's the Orange Tip butterfly that lay its eggs on this plant (one egg per plant) but in this case, the Large Cabbage White beat the Orange Tip to it, clearly. But other than that, nothing out-of-the-ordinary here. Well... nothing too strange, other than the caterpillars don't seem to be eating the leaves of the hedge garlic - and are a little... err.... exposed at the top tips of the plant, you might say (and if you would say that - you'd be dead right A).

Fast forward a few days - and the below has happened.

The caterpillars have all died (or are dying) and up to eighty tiny yellow (wasp) larvae have crawled out of their bodies and formed cocoons underneath the dying caterpillar. The ants, by the way, are almost certainly there to feed off the dying caterpillars.

So what IS the story here?


Let's start from the beginning. And in order:


  • The Large Cabbage White butterfly laid a load of eggs on the underside of the leaves of the plant. In this case hedge garlic, but more-often-than-not cabbages or nasturtiums etc.


  • The adult butterfly buggered off (no parental-care in butterflies) and a few days later her eggs hatched.


  • As SOON as they hatched, the tiny caterpillars began eating the leaves of the plant that their eggs were glued to.


  • As SOON as this happened, the plant sent out a distress signal in the form of a powerful (to insects anyway) pheromone or more accurately, a "kairomone". B.   Now. The plant will detect which insect species is attacking it by chemically-analysing the insects' saliva. If it detects (for example) Cabbage White butterfly saliva, the kairomone is sent out immediately. But if it detects (for example) Cabbage moth (Mamestra brassicae) it tends NOT to send out the kairomone.


  • Now, in our case, the hedge garlic detected a Large Cabbage White (Pieris brassicae) attack, so yeah - it sent out the distress flare in the form of a kairomone - and this distress flare attracted not one but two parasitic wasps.


  • The first parasitic wasp it attracted was a tiny endoparasitic wasp called the glomerata wasp or Cotesia glomerata. The second wasp it attracted was very probably an even tinier ichneumon wasp going by the catchy name Lysibia nana - a hyper-parasite C


  • OK.  We're getting there now. The first wasp that this plant sent out its distress flare to, the glomerata wasp, flew in and laid between 16 and 52 tiny eggs INSIDE the body of the developing caterpillars, using its needle (or hair)-like ovipositor (literally - "egg placer"). These eggs are all covered with a virus which disables the caterpillar's rudimentary immune system.


  • These tiny endoparasitic glomerata wasp larvae would have grown from microscopic-sized things to wasp larvae about the size of a small grain of rice INSIDE the body of the unfortunate caterpillar - by eating the caterpillar from the inside but... and this is important... keeping the caterpillar alive by avoiding eating its vital organs. All the time, the unfortunate caterpillar would be rushing around eating as much leaf matter (perhaps over one and a half times the quantity of leaves it might normally eat D) as it could to sustain both it and the developing parasites within it.


  • Right then. IF the hedge garlic's kairomone distress signal DOES attract C , the hyper-parasitic wasp, Lysibia nana, as well as the slightly larger but basic endoparasitic glomerata wasp, this is where the whole story goes bananas. Lysibia bananas in fact. These wonderful wee wasps will fly in and they will chemically-analyse the caterpillar's saliva in the same way the hedge garlic plant could. The nana wasps can detect if the caterpillars are "infected" with glomerata wasps because the glomerata wasps alter the smell of the caterpillar's saliva.  To reiterate then, the nana wasps, like the glomerata wasps, have been attracted in by the plant's kairomone distress signal, but unlike the glomerata wasps, the nana wasps ALSO then taste the caterpillar's saliva and only continue their attack IF they detect the presence of the glomerata wasps in the caterpillar's saliva.


  • If the nana wasp arrives on the scene and detects glomerata wasp larvae inside the caterpillar, it lays its own eggs INSIDE the developing glomerata larvae, INSIDE the poor old caterpillar, using its supersensitive, even more hair-like, ovipositor - and THESE are the parasites that will eventually win this particular battle of chemical warfare - the hyper-parasitic nana wasps that is, rather than the endoparasitic glomerata wasps.


  • At a point where the wasp larvae (probably just the glomerata wasps in our case) need to leave the caterpillar's body to pupate into adult wasps, approximately two weeks after being "injected" into the caterpillar's body,  the wasp larvae, now the size of a small grain of rice chemically alter the caterpillar's behaviour and force it to climb as high (A) as it can up the plant that it has been eating. The caterpillar, now little more than a hollowed-out zombie, obeys, stops eating and climbs. 


  • When the caterpillar reaches the top of its plant - up to 52 wasp larvae chew their way out of the caterpillar's side. Like something out of the "Alien" film. These wasp larvae start to spin silken yellow cocoons around themselves, right under the (very much alive still) unfortunate caterpillar, which completely "zombified" now, spins a further layer of protective cocoon, using its own silk, around the wasp cocoons. With regards to this - the wasp larvae have chemically-forced the butterfly larva (caterpillar) to exhibit parental-care effectively. Behaviour that is indeed completely alien to a Large Cabbage White butterfly, whether it is an imago (adult) or indeed a larva (caterpillar).


  • The caterpillar hasn't fed for a while and other than a few vital organs hanging from the inside of its body, is pretty-well a shell of a caterpillar now, after it has helped form a protective cocoon around the pupating wasps.  That and the fact that its side has been ripped open by up to 52 emerging parasites, might be the end of the unfortunate caterpillar. And to be fair, often that will be that - the caterpillar will simply die. That said, in many cases, the caterpillar doesn't die immediately. Not for a good while. Not, indeed until a week to ten days have passed and the wasps have all "eclosed" (that is pupated and become adult wasps). During that week, the zombified caterpillar sits still to guard over the developing glomerata wasp pupae and attacks anything that comes near them by violently thrashing about and throwing attackers off the cocoon mass.


  • But why and how would it do this? Why on earth would a caterpillar that has been opened up by up to 52 parasites and have them burst out of its body STILL sit there all meek and compliant, help its grisly murderers to form a protective cocoon and then aggressively fight attackers of these wasp larvae, the larvae after all that have basically all-but-killed the caterpillar? Surely after the endoparasitic glomerata wasp larvae have burst out of the caterpillar, it can't  still be chemically "zombified" by them any more?  No... probably not. But recent research suggests that a couple of wasp larvae STAY BEHIND, INSIDE the wasp - to continue to chemically-alter its behaviour, so it does help form a protective layer around the developing wasp pupae and does fight off potential attackers. So you have the situation here where one or two wasp larvae stay behind and take one for the team, so to speak. They will never pupate. These (one or) two wasp larvae continue to exist inside the dying caterpillar simply to ensure the rest of the brood which have left the caterpillar, have the best chance to make it to adulthood. These two wasp larvae will soon die with their caterpillar host.


  • Now, eventually, after about a week or so, if the caterpillar has managed to survive that long (ours haven't by the way) and has managed to protect the developing young from any would-be attackers, the glomerata (or  C nana) wasps "eclose" (emerge from their pupae), males first (as tends to be the way) then the females, which are pretty-well immediately set-upon by the waiting males - and therefore the life cycle continues.


  • Of course it might not be the endoparasitic glomerata wasps that emerge from the pupae to complete their life cycle. It could instead be the hyperparasitic nana wasps. That said, it could even be a smaller, meta-parasitic wasp which parasitized the hyper-parasitic nana wasps. No. Nothing in nature is safe and nothing is a given.


  • Finally I should perhaps point out this story above is far from rare. It is a story played out all over the land. Indeed, something like around 70% of ALL Large Cabbage White butterfly caterpillars meet their ends before getting the chance to pupate into adult butterflies themselves because of the actions of their parasitic glomerata (and also perhaps nana) wasps. A fact to errr.... chew on, perhaps?



Notes to the above.

A. The caterpillars are  chemically-brainwashed by the glomerata wasp larvae developing inside them to climb as high as they can when it's time for the wasp grubs to emerge from the caterpillar's body.

B. "Kairomone". A (chemical) call-to-arms, (if you like).  As opposed to a "Cairo Moan". An (audible) call-to-prayers. (From an Egyptian mosque's minaret?).

C. Lysibia nana. The hyperparasitic wasp.

D. Hmmm. Why would the hedge garlic plant send out a kairomone to attract a parasitic wasp to attack the caterpillars - only for the caterpillars then to have to eat 150% more (than they would normally) of the plant's leaves to sustain the caterpillar AND the developing wasp larvae inside it?  Doesn't make sense does it? If you ask me, the plant should send out a far better kairomone, which attracts a gurt big insect which simply immediately eats the tiny wee caterpillars, rather than fudge around laying eggs in them but keeping them absolutely ravenous.   But hey. I don't make the rules...


Finally then.

All that writing (above) a struggle?

Can't say I blame you.

Watch the below then .... then read my words above.

Have a great weekend.




[email protected] (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) Alliaria petiolata Cotesia glomerata glomerata wasp hedge garlic Large Cabbage White Lysibia nana Pieris brassicae Thu, 17 Jun 2021 19:27:58 GMT
Hornet moth natural histories I was going to blog about "horrible (natural) histories" today with a post about a fascinating endoparasitic wasp - and I will - soon - but as "our" garden hornet moths seemed to choose today to emerge en masse and begin mating - I really had no option but to take a few photos and drop them here as a blog post.

We're incredibly lucky (I think) to have these beautiful moths in our poplar trees - and as long as the poplars remain standing, I keep strimming the long grass from the base of the trunk (thus giving the moths access to their "home") and the moths keep coming, then I'll keep photographing them and gawping.

"Horrible (natural) histories" these hornet moths most certainly are not ( well... not unless you grow poplars as a crop for a living) but do please look out for my "horrible natural histories" blog post, coming soon...

Have a good week.



[email protected] (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) hornet moth Sesia apiformis Tue, 15 Jun 2021 08:19:04 GMT
A wonderful wildlife and weather weekend. No time for a lengthy, flowery write-up.

So, in a bulleted format.

What I (and we) saw this weekend.

  • I found a (n unexpected) little egret on my Saturday morning walk around the 'hood. At a newly-developed SANG lake. 
  • Ben and I were treated to TWO hares running full tilt towards and then right past us on the outside mat of the golf driving range yesterday.
  • Also yesterday we can report that the first of the 2 or 3yo swifts landed IN our swift tunnel at the house. 
  • Ben found a June bug in the garden yesterday afternoon.
  • I saw my first (garden) adult cinnabar moth yesterday and also my first (garden) cabbage white caterpillars.
  • My wife and I watched stag beetles and hedgehogs emerge at dusk last night - alongside a stupendous aerobatic show from "our" swifts.
  • Ben and I went for a superb bike ride through Swinley Forest today and watched little grebes (below), banded demoiselles, beautiful demoiselles, black-tailed skimmers, southern hawkers and broad-bodied chasers.
  • and photographed a woodlark below.








  • We also heard a Dartford warbler and a peregrine (but saw neither) - we MUST return to hunt down that Dartford warbler!
  • Finally, I think... the first of this year's hornet moths appeared in the garden today. The photos below are of a female sending out her pheromones at dusk - very rare - we normally see these emerge in the garden in the morning.
  • All in all... what a wonderful wildlife and weather weekend.



[email protected] (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) banded demoiselle beautiful demoiselle black-tailed skimmer broad-bodied chaser cabbage white caterpillar cinnabar moth dartford warbler hare hornet moth june bug little egret peregrine southern hawker stag beetle swift woodlark. Sun, 13 Jun 2021 18:31:55 GMT
Today's partial solar eclipse. PHOTO. For the interested:

Camera: Canon 6D. (not Mkii).

Lens: Canon 400mm F5.6 L

Manual settings:

ISO: Minimum. L(ow) (50).

Aperture: Minimum. F32.

Shutter speed: Minimum. (1/4000s).

Locked focused to a distant-flying aeroplane (pretty-well infinity).

Photo taken as sun disappeared behind clouds (important!) at approximately 11:10am BST (3 minutes before peak eclipse).

Developed in Lightroom Classic (2.6)

[email protected] (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) 2021 eclipse Thu, 10 Jun 2021 10:34:56 GMT
Another. Ten months ago, I blogged here that I had recorded the first ever instance of a Toadflax brocade moth in our 10KM square (SU87) of vice county Berkshire. 

Today, after Ben and I rootled through our moff trap, as part of "30 days wild", I can announce that not only did we record the first instance last August, but we've today recorded the only other instance too. Ten months later.

These (very pretty) toadflax brocade moths CLEARLY think our garden is a shingle coast in Sussex. Or something.


OK then.

To end with, we caught another beautiful moth last night.

A pale tussock moth. 

Calliteara pudibunda.

Calliteara literally means "Spring beauty" and as the regular reader(s) of this blog may remember from my "hop dog" post, pudibunda means "bashful".

So... the pale tussock has a (new) scientific name which now literally means "bashful, Spring (May) beauty". 

Yes. I'd go along with that.



[email protected] (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) Calliteara pudibunda Calophasia lunula pale tussock toadflax brocade Sun, 06 Jun 2021 12:27:40 GMT
A,B,C and D Wow. What a dreadful May so far (weather-wise, at least). Our blue tit nest has pretty-well failed entirely (more on that in due course) and my swifts are few and far between so far this year.


In better news.

The regular reader(s) of this blog may know that this year, we have four (I think) hedgehogs visiting or living in and around our gardens this year.

Three males (A,C and D) and one female (B).

We have had a fair amount of protracted and very noisy "courtship" in the back garden this year. I'm talking about the hedgehogs of course. Stop it.

No pitter patter of tiny hedgehog feet yet, but we live in hope.

Now, this all said, last night I recorded four wee clips of our four (I think) hedgehogs at their feeding bowl. With four screenshot mugshots.


  • Male hedgehog A 



  • Female hedgehog B 



  • Male hedgehog C



  • Male hedgehog D

For a full(er) description of these four hedgehogs, please do (re)visit this blog post of a month ago and then please do enjoy this short video of all four hedgehogs feeding in our hedgehog feeding station last night.

I hope you have a lovely weekend.





[email protected] (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) hedgehog hedgehogs Sat, 22 May 2021 08:08:34 GMT
Crewe Station. The regular reader(s?) of this blogging website may well know that, no, I'm not the urban or suburban foxes' biggest fan. 

The regular reader(s?) of this blogging website should also certainly know that I have been trying to increase the local population of hedgehogs over the last ten years here - by digging tunnels (lots of them) and providing bespoke food bowls for them and also going to some length to stop other things (cats, rats, foxes etc) getting to the hedgehog food.

I thiiiiink we're up to at least four hedgehogs this season - and they appear to be mating in our back garden. Well... a' courtin' anyway.

Last night however, our hedgehog peace was rudely interrupted, for the first time, by the local fox cubs which seem to have started exploring our garden now.

The video below is 16 minutes long. Short it is not. But it should give you a little idea of what went on in the early hours of this morning in and around our side passage and hedgehog feeding area.

Incidentally - when my wife left the house via the back door to see what on earth the magpies were shouting about - she stepped INTO the side passage WHILST one of the two fox cubs was actually still curled up IN the side passage. The shot at the end of the video was a screenshot from the video clip that my trail camera recorded of the wee cub walking past Anna back into our back garden.

157 clips, my trail camera recorded last night.

And my hedgehog feeding camera recorded a few dozen clips also.

At least 4 hedgehogs AND at least 2 fox clubs and one adult vixen last night. Oh and a pair of VERY shouty magpies.

It was like Crewe Station out there this morning.

Enjoy your Sunday.


[email protected] (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) fox hedgehog Sun, 16 May 2021 08:54:06 GMT
Three little birds. Revealed. You needed Steve Austen eyes to see these wee things in yesterday's post.

But if you did spot them... TOP MARKS.

Little ringed plovers.

Lovely wee things and a joy to see again. 

Just quickly then, as I must go... a couple of facts regarding little ringed plovers or more specifically, their generic and specific name - as I do have a little interest in zoological nomenclature.

The scientific name for the LRP is Charadrius dubius.

"Charadrius" - A nocturnal, dull-yellowish bird, found in ravines and river valleys, originally thought perhaps to be a stone curlew - but what was for sure is that merely the sight of one would cure jaundice. Yep... you heard me.

"dubius" - so called as early zoologists weren't entirely convinced that the Little Ringed Plover was indeed a separate species from the ringed plover and were instead perhaps more likely to be juvenile ringed plovers in slightly different plumage.

I know. I know.





[email protected] (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) Charadrius dubius Little ringed plover Thu, 13 May 2021 08:30:00 GMT
Three little birds. Thirty-five years. Thirty-five years ago, I was a gangly, spotty teenager - a gangly, spotty teenager that liked birds. (Uh huh... both kinds, pop-pickers).

I owned a white Peugeot racing bicycle and used to get around ANYWHERE on it - after completing my paper round on it earlier in the day.

My bike looked very much like this.

It's probably half the reason why my calves are so massive  - I've cycled thousands and thousands and thousands of miles in my life (I still do, by the way - but nowadays my cycling comes in the form of mountain biking and static biking).

Thirty-five years ago I lived in Hazlemere, near High Wycombe - and I used to occasionally bicycle the 7 miles down the A404(M) Marlow bypass MOTORWAY (I assume it was illegal - I assume it still is ... as I've never seen anyone else do it) from High Wycombe to Little Marlow to go and peer at the gravel pits there  - and look for such feathered fancies as water rail and oystercatchers (etc).

I've popped up a screenshot from google maps of my cycle route 35 years ago, from my home then, to this gravel pit. Note I've had to suggest to google when requesting a route, that I was driving, not bicycling, as if I'd have said I was bicycling, I'd have been given a legal (but longer) cycle route.

I think the last time I was there was around thirty five years ago.

And I saw a three little birds there I remember quite clearly. Three quite exciting little birds.

A few days ago my eldest boy (the one taking part in the "around the birds in eighty aves competition") suggested we go to a Little Marlow gravel pit as he wanted to try and see some wading birds to add to his list (up to over 90 now). Oh... and the fact that his hero, Steve Backshall, lives a stone's throw away from this particular gravel pit in South Buckinghamshire and there'd alwaaaaayyyys be the chaaaaaance of bumping into Steve around there, wouldn't there?

So off we popped.

Not on my racing bike this time, but in my car. A big, black estate I call "the hearse".

Steve Backshall wasn't there.

But the three little exciting birds that I last saw there thirty-five years ago, were.

(Of course they weren't the exact same individuals... but I'd not be at all surprised if they were direct descendants, at least one or two of them).

It genuinely was quite emotional - taking my eldest boy back to my  '80s "birdwatching haunt" and introducing him to the exact same species that I'd last seen there, thirty-five years ago and in fact I've only EVER seen there.


What are these birds then?


I took a very long range shot with my new 400mm lens.

See if you can see them.

All three of them.

No... not the coot. Nor the heron.


I'll post later in the week perhaps with a "zoomed in and ringed (cough)" version of the photo above so you can see if your eyes are still up-to-the-job.



For now... I'll leave you with a few other snaps from our wee trip back to Little Marlow - a reed bunting, a common tern, a crow on the Marlow donkey railway line and a mother and young great crested grebe.

Do keep your eyes peeled later in the week for my 3 little birds reveal.





[email protected] (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) common tern great crested grebe little marlow gravel pits mystery bird reed bunting south Bucks spade oak three little birds Wed, 12 May 2021 08:30:00 GMT
A teaser for you - the answer. Eight days ago now I posted THIS teaser and wondered if you could guess what two species I think I am the first to ever photograph.

Did you guess correctly?

The three photographs I took from the house, to the top end of the garden (forgive the background of lurid pink garden trug and tripod legs) are below and show...



A male great spotted woodpecker taking a HORNET MOTH LARVA (caterpillar) from an exposed poplar root in our back garden.

Try to find a similar image on Google (of a woodpecker taking a hornet moth caterpillar). I think you'll struggle.



A little more meat on these bones, then.

Q: How do I know it's a male great spotted woodpecker? 

A: Because of the scarlet patch on its nape. (A female lacks this and has an all black nape).


More importantly, perhaps...

Q: How do I know this is a hornet moth larva?

A: Because our poplar trees in the back garden are RIDDLED with these beautiful (if pesky, if you are a tree person) insects. You may remember me blogging at some length about the emergence of these moths in our garden last summer. We have a steady stream of woodpeckers on many days, doing what this woodpecker did above - flying down to our poplars (our biggest poplar is the most popular) and tapping away at exposed roots or near entry holes at the base of the trunk. When the sound that "comes back" to them is NOT a "hollow sound"... that means the grub (or in this case, the hornet moth caterpillar) is feeding in a tunnel just below the bark or root's surface. A few insistent digs and chisels from the woodpecker and the caterpillar is exposed and plucked from the root or trunk. 

Amazing to watch - and I was lucky enough to have a camera to hand this time.


You know.

Most people go their entire lives without seeing ADULT hornet moths.

And only a tiny, tiny few (mainly tree surgeons etc) will ever see a hornet moth caterpillar - as it spend that entire part of its lifecycle hidden below the bark of a tree or inside the roots of a tree, rather like a goat moth caterpillar... which we've also seen (you may remember?)

Well... we're not tree surgeons here... but also... we're not most people, either.

We use our eyes.

We really use our eyes.

So we see everything.

And boy... do we know how lucky we are.

I hope you enjoy what remains of your weekend...




[email protected] (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) great spotted woodpecker hornet moth caterpillar Sun, 09 May 2021 14:40:32 GMT
They're back! Oh come on.

You know what "they're" signifies.

The best.

Back high over the house tonight at 18:45. Just two of them.  The first two back here.

Welcome back.

Time to play the song again.

Their song.

The lucky ones... that is.

[email protected] (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) swift Sun, 02 May 2021 18:03:47 GMT
A teaser for you. Right.

First things first.

In a few days (perhaps less than a week) I will post a photo (three in fact) that I took this morning, in the garden, of two wild British animals that I don't think anyone has photographed (together) before.

In the world.


OK. I may be wrong on that assertion, but an extensive google search suggests that I may actually be correct.

Am I the first person to photograph this species interaction?


Here's a teaser for you - guess away if you like - and all will be revealed in the next week.



Talking of teasers.

I got some lovely footage last night of two a male and a female hedgehog "a-courting" in the garden. Well... the male was "a-courting" and I'd call the female a right tease, to be honest.

These protracted dances can last all night and quite often they fail to end in successful copulation - the male simply gets bored of the female giving him the run-around (actually the male ends up running around the grunting, snorting, I'm-not-having-it female, but you know what I mean) and wanders off.

I watched two of our hedgehogs dance around each other in the pitch black last night - but I could only do so because I was using my wonderful HIK MICRO OWL PRO OQ35 thermal camera (again... I will review this thing in full when I've given it the full black rabbit treatment).

That's how I watched (and filmed) the hedgehogs "a-courting" last night in the pitch black - but I certainly didn't need any electronic gadgets to assist my hearing of their shenanigans.  The female is incredibly noisy in these meetings - grunting and snorting her (one would think?) disapproval for hours as the male poddles around her and she point-blank refuses to let him come at her from behind, matron.

As I think I've described before, the footage from the HIK MICRO OWL PRO OQ35 thermal camera has no microphone, so no sound will be recorded on its footage, but the footage itself below is of superb quality (dare I say so myself) and shows just what this piece of kit can do. I've added "anti-shake" to the video clip, which makes it look a wee bit wobbly, so please take some seasickness pills if you like, with your cup of tea, as you settle back to watch the dance of the hedgehogs - all in thermal vision. No... no light was used to record this footage - it's all recorded by looking at HEAT. (Yes.. the camera is superb!).


Just to round off this prickly story, my motion-activated camera by the hedgehog food bowl, picked up quite a lot of activity too, later last night (or should I say early this morning). 

It's exceedingly rare to see two adult hedgehogs use the same food source at the same time around here, so I assume these two hedgehogs (below in the clip) doing just that - are the same two that were dancing around their metaphorical handbags five or so hours earlier. I actually hope the clip below shows a post-coital cigarette being smoked meal being eaten, but the continued snorts and disgruntled grunts from the female in the clip below, may suggest otherwise.


Oh. In case the regular reader(s) of this blog would like to know WHICH of the hedgehogs (A,B,C or D) were filmed in the clips above... well... obviously B (as that's our only female) and I would have to guess... male C. I may be wrong. Please re-read this post and guess for yourself.


Finally then, talking of guesses.

Do return to the teaser photo at the top of this post - and have a think about what on earth I've photographed in the garden today that I don't think anyone else ever has (together) - or if they have... they've not publicised their photos.

What COULD I have snapped then?

In the GARDEN?



The answer will be with you before long. See if you were correct then. Good luck.






[email protected] (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) courting hedgehog HIK MICRO OWL PRO OQ35 teaser Sat, 01 May 2021 19:13:48 GMT
A few recent observations Afternoon all.

Just a few recent observations from me - as we're heading, helter-skelter into my favourite time of year, so I thought I'd hastily get a few scribbles down here, before I busy myself outside more and more.

  • We're a week (approximately) away from the best birds of all returning en masse. Oh sure, small numbers have been seen up and down the country in the last few days (and I remember that TODAY in fact... well... on THIS DAY in 2012, I saw my first swift back for the year over the house), but they've faced a chilly UK and battled a northerly or north-easterly wind to get here, the early ones... and on Monday of next week - THAT wind changes to a much more favourable southerly or south westerly.  My swift set-up is ready... and as I'm sure you can imagine, I'm CHAMPING AT THE BIT right now. Boy have I missed "my" swifts.
  • Talking of weather - we've barely had any rain at all so far this month. Of course I'm typing this as it rains outside - but I think that today's rain is the first for about a month. I'm pretty sure that the only precipitation we've had (until today) this April was about 6mm of snow a few weeks ago. Whether (weather!) or not this (cold, frosty and dry month) has delayed the 2021 bluebell season, or whether or not this has ruined the 2021 bluebell season is something I'm not learned enough to comment on - but what I CAN say is that at present the bluebell season looks at least delayed or worse, a non-event this year. The photo below was taken by at dawn me a few days ago that normally, at this time of year is stained PURPLE with millions of bluebells.
  • We have had a pair of stock doves visit our garden regularly over the last three weeks. I've never seen stock doves in the garden before and even though I can hardly be described as a fan of pigeons and doves, these two are very good-looking birds and I'm almost pleased to see them.
  • We've also had a lovely wee "sun jumper" (as I call them) come into our house this week. It would be fair to say that this sun-loving jumping spider won't find much sunlight on our landing, but when the temperature increases outside again I'll pop it back outside if it's still around. This tiny spider is a Heliophanus species. And a male. Probably H.cupreus (the "copper sun jumper") too as H.auratus (The "golden sun jumper") doesn't live around here.  The last time I found a sun jumper here, you might remember, was about this time last year, albeit it in a heatwave on our south-facing porch - a much better place for these sun-loving beasties. That was the "yellow-footed sun jumper", H.flavipes. Anyway - a couple of photos of our male golden or copper sun jumper are below. I've included a photo of my hand and the spider, just so you get an idea of how small these spiders are (an idea you don't get from the first photo).
  • Finally - I'm still testing my super-duper thermal camera and last night recorded a short clip of one of our (OBVIOUSLY (look at the clip!)) male hedgehogs  ( I think this one is male hedgehog C) wandering around the garden just after dark. I'm still getting to grips with it (the footage is a bit shaky and I'm struggling to quickly focus) but I'm SERIOUSLY impressed with this kit - and will write a full review as-and-when. As for this particular hedgehog and indeed our hedgehogs in general. I still think we have four visiting the garden(s) each night and now I also think that THIS male (hedgehog C) (video below) sleeps (for now) in our compost heap. Which is fine by me... even if I did originally hope for grass snakes there! 
  • More soon. TBR.



[email protected] (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) April bluebells coppery sun-jumping spider hedgehog Heliophanus cupreus stock dove sun-jumping spider swift weather Wed, 28 Apr 2021 14:52:06 GMT
First blue tit egg laid this morning. The regular reader(s?!) of this blog may know that alongside my swift camera(s) I also have a blue tit/house sparrow box with a tiny HD camera fixed to the internal roof, looking down into the box - to document our regular nesting sparrows (last year) or blue tits (the year before last and now this year too).

For the last five winters we've had a great tit roost in this nest box. We assume the same individual. I blogged here about this bird's return to its winter roost on November 25th last year. It was swiftly ousted by a pair of house sparrows, which I blogged about here, a week later, on December 1st.

We didn't see (nor therefore record) much footage from the house sparrows' nest in this camera box last year, as house sparrows, unlike blue tits, completely FILL nest spaces with nesting material, thus often obliterating any view a tiny camera might get. 

That said, you might like to know that five of seven house sparrows nestlings successfully fledged last year - in two broods.

In the middle of the winter this year (so... January and February really) two sparrows again set up shop in this nest box, fighting off two prospecting blue tits as they did - and started to build a nest - but they had clearly abandoned it by mid March- and at the start of April (VERY late for blue tits 'round 'ere) the blue tits moved in themselves and built a nest in double quick time.

Even though we're not that fussy as to which species of bird nests in our tit/sparrow box, to have blue tits  (like this year and the year before last) nest in it certainly does present us with a good season of viewing - we can see eggs being laid and young being raised - unlike the sparrows nest where all we get is sound and a picture of a mass of nesting material.

OK then.

This morning - at 06:05am... our female blue tit laid her first egg.

In the clip below you'll see the clock says she did so at 05:21 (or so) but that is because the clock is set incorrectly  (about 44 minutes early) on my hard drive recorder, and believe it or not... there's NO way to change the clock on this Chinese DVR! (I know... I still can't believe it either).

The very short clip below is a wee test video from me today. Set to 10x normal speed. As a test to see whether a much longer clip of the select moments from the entire season, set again at 10x speed... might be something I like to try to record and edit this spring. We'll see.

Anyway... for now... may I present to you our female blue tit laying her first egg of the year this morning.

More soon I'm sure.





[email protected] (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) blue tit Wed, 21 Apr 2021 16:20:42 GMT
On manoeuvres. "Manoeuvres".

Good word, innit?

Good to use in a game of hangman too. Like "rhythm". Or "jazz".

Anyway... Where was I?

Oh yes... 


The regular reader(s?!) of this blog will I'm sure, know, that I have taken great pleasure in and gone to great efforts to do my bit for the local hedgehog population since we've been at our current house - and I've documented much of the comings and goings of these "Shakespeare's urchins" in and around our gardens for almost a decade now.

At present we seem to have at least three (definitely) and (almost certainly) FOUR hedgehogs in our gardens and using our (deliberately dug or drilled) hedgehog tunnels.

I have been following these four hedgehogs all season using my Browning Trail Camera (please... if you are to buy a trail camera, buy a Browning and not the TAT that are Bushnell trail cameras (and they are you know)) and now... with my super-duper thermal telescope.

Just a few short weeks ago I thought we had two hedgehogs in the garden - two males - and very recently we've had a female visit for the last week or so and now I think we have THREE males and a female visiting most nights.

I've spliced together (more than) a few short infra red clips shot by my trail camera in the YouTube clip below. For brevity's sake I'll annotate the clip below. Just for the record, I will not give these wild animals (nor any wild animals for that matter) "Disneyfied names" as such. But you know that already if you've been visiting this website for any length of time. For now, so you can tell them apart - I'll just call them A,B,C and D.


  • We have four (I think) hedgehogs that use our gardens and tunnels each night. Three males (A, C and D) and one female (B).


  • I'm pretty sure that at least one or two of these hedgehogs used the garden last year. In fact I think male hedgehog A lived in the back garden last year (well... under the next door neighbour's shed bordering our fence).


  • I can tell (and you can in some of the spliced clips below) which hedgehogs are male and which are female because I place my trail camera on the ground - and the male's penis is often very visible (obviously not so with the female).


  • Male hedgehog A has a prominent penis, is very quick on his feet, and constantly sounds like a wee steam train. (02:18- 02:29) Like I say... I'm pretty sure he was around in the garden last year - but he doesn't seem to live in our back garden our even our neighbour's back garden this year as he enters under our side passage from the front garden each night.


  • Female hedgehog B is a newcomer. In the last two weeks. No penis (obviously) and quite hesitant, slow and unsure. Smells everything on her manoeuvres around the gardens and tunnels. She has spent the odd day somewhere in our or our neighbour's back garden, but like male hedgehog A, she tends to come into the back garden each night FROM the front garden, under our side passage door. She, as far as I can make out, still has not even discovered the hedgehog feeding station in our back garden, which her male counterparts most certainly have. No... for now... she *seems* to have followed a scent trail left by male hedgehogs (you'd think it would be the other way 'round wouldn't you?) into our gardens. This female hedgehog almost "whistles" as she moves. A bit like a badger cub. Quite sweet... if you appreciate that sort of thing?! (Listen to 02:38- 02:40 in the clip below)


  • Male hedgehog C is large and sexually active with a prominent penis. Male hedgehog C wipes his chin (you'll see in the clip below) along the flagstones. Read more about hedgehog chin and genital wiping here. I have a feeling that if hedgehog C really is a separate hedgehog and not for example male hedgehog A all puffed up and slowed down... nor actually a quieter male hedgehog D (which I thought it was for some time), then this male does live in and around our back gardens. I may be wrong here.



  • The extended clip below shows all four (I think) hedgehogs on manoeuvres around our "hood". In our side passage and using the tunnel that I chiselled out of the concrete floor under our side passage door. 


  • Yes that's one of my muck boots in the side passage. And yes,  it's not that these hedgehogs are that small - the muck boot is that large. I have big feet. Size 14, if you have to know.


  • The noise that suddenly starts at around 02:11 and scares the bejayzus out of the female hedgehog B in the clip is the tumble dryer that my wife has set to delay. No. I don't know, so don't ask!



In the clip (recorded on my lovely new thermal camera) below, you'll see two hedgehogs in an "encounter" in our back garden at around 10pm a couple of nights ago. I think this is male hedgehog C and female hedgehog B, though that would be complete speculation. It could (for all I know) be a large male and small male checking each other out. There is no sound on this clip (there is never any sound on these thermal video clips). Let's hope it is a male and a female, the female eventually succumbs to the male's charms and we have a few small hedgehogs bumbling around before too long.



That had better be that for now, as far as blogging about "our" garden hedgehogs is concerned.

I'll finish with a disclaimer.

I KNOW we have three hedgehogs in the garden (2 males and 1 female) but looking at all the clips I've shot over the last month or so, I'm cautiously confident that at present we do, indeed, have four. 3 males and 1 female. That said - I could be wrong. They do look (and act) quite similar to each other.

More as and when...


[email protected] (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) hedgehog Tue, 20 Apr 2021 18:38:05 GMT

[email protected] (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) Aglais io butterfly eye peacock Thu, 15 Apr 2021 14:50:40 GMT
This owl watches nightjars... My wonderful wife has only gone and bought me a dream milestone birthday present, hasn't she? Something that she KNOWS I've been after for some time - but never could justify the outlay to be honest.

She's bought me a HIK MICRO OWL OQ35 Thermal camera. The PRO version (OQ35 not OH35).

I'm so excited about the things I can do with this, I can hardly begin to tell you.

I've been looking longingly at thermal cameras for a while now  -  and whilst I know Pulsar Helions are widely considered to be the best - they are also the priciest these days - but as I often maintain - you're buying the badge with "known" brands like Pulsar - something I try to avoid doing if you can do just as well elsewhere, but at a considerably lower price point (must be the Scottish blood in me).

My new HIK MICRO OWL OQ35 does what Pulsar Helions do - but for a lot less money.  Job done as far as I'm concerned.

The pro (OQ rather than OH) in this model means the sensor is larger (and so therefore is the pixel pitch) than in standard models  (640×512 pixel sensor with 17um) and rather like DSLR cameras - I'm ALL about a larger sensor and larger pixel pitch - I  REALLY appreciate the difference with this - and always have done.

I need the sensor to be sensitive enough to make (well insulated with feathers) BIRDS visible at night as well as (the larger and more obviously-warm) foxes, badgers and deer for example. 

What I'd ideally like to do with my new toy, is take it down to the local heath in late Spring and early summer and try and watch nightjars with it - I also hope to show my eldest boy some nightjars this year.

That's pretty-well the primary reason why I had been looking at these thermal cameras for some time (this model in particular) - to watch nightjars with it - as it can literally see in the dark.

I do love nightjars you know. Only swifts beat them in my "bird charts" (if I ever made a list that is).

And I do wish this thermal camera instead of being an "OWL", was actually called a HIK MICRO NIGHTJAR OQ35!

Ok, that's all for now as I've been on the computer far too long already today.

I'll leave you with a few short videos I shot this morning with my new "OWL" before dawn. EDIT and one I have just shot this evening (well after dark) of a hedgehog in the garden (clip 7 below).

All videos shot in the dark (or near dark).

All tests (sorry about the shaky footage).

I'm sure there'll be more night videos soon.


And perhaps of a review of this TASTY bit of kit?


[email protected] (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) birthday HIKMICRO OWL OQ35 night vision tech thermal camera Thu, 15 Apr 2021 12:44:47 GMT
"Around the birds in eighty aves". Done. The regular reader(s?) of this blog may know that I set my eldest boy a challenge on 1st January - a challenge to try and 'tick off' eighty bird species in 2021.

By March 21st, he had reached a total of 75 and ... on Tuesday of this week (that's the 13th April) , he managed to chalk up his eightieth bird species with the sight of a swallow (the first of the year for either of us) through the car windscreen on the drive home back from the first round of golf of the year (for both of us).

Eighty birds done.

We may have to extend the target to ninety?!






Carrion Crow






Song Thrush




Barn Owl






Red Kite










Herring Gull




Canada Goose


Tufted Duck




Black-headed Gull


House Sparrow


Feral Pigeon


Blue Tit


Great Tit


Grey Heron




Egyptian Goose


Pied Wagtail








Collared Dove


Ring-necked Parakeet


Grey Wagtail


Green Woodpecker




Mute Swan






Long-tailed Tit








Great-crested Grebe




Greylag Goose




Little Egret


Grey Partridge




Meadow Pipit












Lesser black backed Gull




Red-legged Partridge




Great Spotted Woodpecker




Tawny Owl




Coal Tit




Common Gull




Stock Dove






Mistle Thrush






Willow Warbler






Cetti's Warbler







[email protected] (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) around the world in eighty aves aves birds Thu, 15 Apr 2021 12:15:16 GMT
Bird news. Just a few bits of bird news tonight, for my interested reader?

1 - On January 1st this year, I devised this year's wildlife game for our eldest boy. "Around the birds in eighty aves". (Try to see 80 bird spp. in a year - a relatively modest total perhaps, but remember our eldest is only eight years old and we can't be sure about lockdown  rules this year.  Anyway - on January 1st he managed to clock up 34 species (on the very first day of the year!) and since then, we've managed to "bag" another 41 species - meaning we (he) sit(s) on 75 species come the 4th week of March - needing only 5 species for a win. I may have to increase the target to 90 - just to keep it interesting?! The current list (as of 21st March 2021) can be seen below.

2 - Two very unexpected visitors turned up to the garden yesterday - a first in ten years for this garden (well... we've often kept hens here, so rarely do I feed wild birds, as I am a little hot on biosecurity when my hens are around). These two visitors, a male and a female siskin became Ben's 74th species of the year so far - and like I say, we weren't really anticipating seeing any siskins this year (we are not "twitchers" or even "birders" (shudder))  - so this was a real bonus. Ben and I were engaged in a mighty tussle of Wii golf in the conservatory at the time that these siskins alighted on our very temporary wild bird feeder - I did have my camera with me, so took a few VERY poor shots through blown and dirty conservatory windows. These photos can be seen below.

3 -  Ben and I took a 6 mile dawn walk around the 'hood on Saturday morning, to see if we could hear and then see the our first chiffchaff of the year. We managed to hear one in a local bluebell wood and then saw it - which was lovely. Good to see we were only two days later than the earliest seen and heard in this neck of the woods (Berkshire) this year.

4 - On our walk, we also spotted an obvious pair of buzzards, sitting together on the edge of a very quiet copse (full of roe deer as it happens) very close to our house. Oh it would be brilliant if these beautiful birds nested there this year. We are spoiled for red kites here (they're everywhere - we've become blasé about them) so we love seeing our preferred (to be honest) buzzards. A couple of (again poor) photos below. 

5 - Finally (I think), I've been preparing my singular (now) swift space in the attic. I've bought a new swift call sound system with mini tweeter speakers, some black sugar paper from my wife's school (to darken up the interior of the space - well... that's what swifts prefer after all) and Ben and I will shore it all up during the Easter holidays this year in a (perhaps vain) hope that the best birds of all will return to us this year, and this time ACTUALLY NEST. 

That all said, we have an intruder in our swift space at present. A very inquisitive starling - that has investigated the swift space TWICE last week, around the time I dropped Ben off at school. 

I rig my wildlife cameras up to a motion-activated hard drive recorder - and this starling recorded its own mini clips therefore (see below).

I should perhaps point out that in the YouTube clip below, you, the viewer are looking through the lens of a very wide angle mini camera screwed into an attic beam about two feet directly above my self-built swift space on a shelf in the attic. The camera looks directly DOWN into the swift space from above.

You are getting a "birds eye" view, so to speak. 

You're looking down the interior breeze blocks of the attic wall (bottom of the screen) onto the floor of a swift box I've built and screwed onto a shelf (which I also built) in the attic space.

The box is open at present (no ceiling) but the walls are a foot or so high - high enough to keep swifts in the box rather than falling out into the attic proper.

You'll also see in the clip below to the left of the box is a wooden swift "round", in which I hope any visiting swifts lay eggs and a few bricks on their sides, to make parts of the box VERY dark - which the swifts prefer. I'll need to, as I say, tidy all this up before the end of April. 

The starling (and swift last year) enter and leave the space through a foot-long tunnel I've diamond drilled through the breeze block and brick exterior attic wall and lined with a carpeted flue pipe.

Now... whilst I think starlings are lovely things - I can't have them upsetting the apple cart as far as nesting in my swift space is concerned - I've put too much time and effort and money into swifts - so I'll keep an eye on this starling and if it becomes too keen - I'll block the flue pipe for a month or so, to persuade it to look elsewhere to nest.

[email protected] (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) buzzard chiffchaff siskin starling swift Sun, 21 Mar 2021 19:50:29 GMT
Encounters. 2: "The bird with TWO dark sides?" Oh about six or seven years ago now, I decided that I'd perhaps start to pen a few wildlife blog posts on this website, detailing some of my animalian "encounters" over the past few decades.

I was inspired at the time by a couple of stoats I saw on a drive earlier that day, so decided to write about another time, the first time in fact, I saw stoats in the wild - and I had in mind, like I say, six or seven years ago now, that I'd write about a number of past "encounters" each year.

Wind the clock forward these six or seven years then - and I never did add to my first "encounters" post.

Until today that is.

You see, on today's pre-dawn walk around the 'hood' (as has been my way during the "Covid year") I listened to a wildlife podcast as I walked - and was reminded of a wonderful encounter I had over thirty years ago - and pretty-well exactly 2000 miles from my English childhood home. Grab a mug of tea and I'll tell you about it if you like. I'll wait.




It's mid August 1989. 

Jive Bunny was number one in the UK charts and the UK Prime Minister at the time was still (for another year only) Margaret Thatcher.

Richard Marx was number one in the US charts and its president was George Bush (Snr) in his first year as president 41.

"Sex Lies and Video tape", "Uncle Buck" and "Nightmare on Elm Street FIVE" were movies released that year.

F.W. de Clerk was just about to take over from P.W. Botha as the final state president of South Africa.

Mandela was still in prison at this time, by the way.

The Ayatullah Khomeini had just died in Iran  (after calling for a 'Fatwa' against Salman Rushdie and his "Satanic Verses" earlier that year, remember?) and there had just been the student protests in Tiananmen Square, Beijing.

The dreadful Hillsborough tragedy had happened in the Spring of 1989 and the last golden toad was recorded in Costa Rica in May. It's now extinct, sadly.

OK. It wasn't all bad in 1989, you know.

The Berlin wall was about to be pulled down in a month or three. It was still in place in August of 1989, mind - and if you want more... well... important world events... to really remind you of that time... "Baywatch" was still a month or so away from beginning its very first season on our televisions, as was "The Simpsons", as was... "Challenge Aneka". Ahem.


I have no idea what you were doing in mid August 1989 - but I can vividly remember what I was up to.

I was a gangly 18 year old, on a "coming-of-age" extended holiday with similar-aged youths on the Greek (and Turkish) island of Cyprus at the time. We were based in my cousin's large villa in a traditional Greek Cypriot village called Pissouri, just inland from the south coast. I was waiting for the phone call to discover my A level results* that summer on the island... and was waking up each morning with a thick head after another late night of Brandy Sours and general debauchery.

We, as a group of ten or so young adults (5 or so women and 5 or so blokes), had spent a night on Aphrodite's Rock off the south coast of the island, watching the total lunar eclipse over a bottle (or three of) 'Ouzo' and the encounter I wanted to write about here, happened the next day, 5 miles down the coast from Aphrodite's rock.

Several of the lads on this holiday, me included, and tomboyish Kiwi woman called Liz, decided to walk westwards along Pissouri beach then swim around the headland ... (the headland pictured in the middle of this photo below, taken from Pissouri beach itself)

to the see the white cliffs of Cape Aspro. (Aspro literally means "white" in Greek).

I don't quite remember WHY we decided to do that, as the swim around the rocky headland was far from easy - in fact at the time it felt pretty dicey.

I expect that I had suggested it, as I've never been the best "sitter around" on beaches on holiday. My wife Anna calls such activity "being days" and what I like to do on holidays as "doing days". Yeah - I've never been much good at "being days" on beach holidays.

Anyway... a few of us boys and Liz walked for about an hour  (the trail has been washed away now I hear)

then dived into the wine-dark (you've not read Homer have you?) sea and swam for five or ten minutes around the towering white cliffs to be pretty-well washed up onto a deserted shingle and sand beach hidden from the Kap Aspro trail high above on top of these limestone monsters.

I looked up and immediately found myself looking into the piercing dark eyes of several (perhaps five or six) medium-sized, rakish falcons - which had flown down to investigate me. I was, I suppose, trespassing in their 'hood.

I knew exactly what they were - having read up on them before we got our flight. (The furthest I'd been before then was The Black Isle so I was excited not only to see a lot of "birds" in bikinis on holiday in the Med, but also some exotic, feathered birds - and had researched them with my 16th birthday present  -see below (my handwritten notes in that 1987 book, alongside the bird were written by me in September 1989).

They were the rare and exotic and dashing ELEONORA'S FALCONS! And the cliff that we sat below just happened to be one of their few strongholds on the island of Cyprus.

Now, looking back, knowing what I do now, I expect that even though we didn't stay long on the beach below this colony of rare falcons (there was nothing else on the beach - and to be honest I think it was really only me that was interested in the falcons at all anyway!) we probably still temporarily disturbed them - and it was something that I'd probably not suggest YOU do now. (The entire area is now an "IBA" (an Important Bird Area) and is almost certainly protected as such).

But at the time. I was blown away.

These MAGNIFICENT birds - much more exotic than our hobbies or kestrels.

Were RIGHT ABOVE MY HEAD  -  on a sun-baked Mediterranean island.

Surrounded by tanned, bikini-clad women, cocktails and crates of Keo beer.


At least to me.



Forget the bikinis and beer for a few minutes. Yep. Hard I know. 

Let's concentrate briefly on the falcons.

If you don't know much about these wonderful birds, please allow me to tell you a little about them. I don't think you'll regret it. I hope not, anyway.


Admittedly - I'm often into strange or unique wildlife.

I do like my swifts for example. 

And my nightjars.

And toads, bats, glow worms.

This sort of stuff.

The weird stuff.

The different stuff.

The wonderful stuff.

The stuff that sadly, natural history TV producers often deliberately fail to fill our screens with, instead concentrating on the glory boys - you know... the big cats and monkeys and crocodiles and penguins.

Eleonora's falcons are indeed, weird birds. 

Wonderful birds.

Perhaps even EVIL GENIUS birds?


They're named after the Lady Judge (a Queen really, rather than any administer of justice as such) and Sardinia's most famous heroine, Eleanor of Arborea.

Eleanor, like many nobles of the time around Europe, was bang into her falconry - and it was indeed her that passed into law the protection of falcons' nests and eggs during the 14th Century - the Eleonora's falcon, which would have been nesting on Sardinia at the time for sure (and still is of course) was so-named after her.

Regarding her name. I've always (incorrectly) known these birds as ELEANORAS FALCON (Two "As"). But their name actually is "ELEONORA'S FALCON".  (Two "Os"). This is because whilst in Sardinia, her name would have been: Elianora de Arbaree, in Italy (FAR more important as far as zoological nomenclature would be concerned) it would have been: Eleonora d'Arborea (two "Os").

The falcon itself is a handsome bird. A little smaller and more athletic-looking than the peregrine and a little larger than the hobby, which it looks very similar too, with its russet pyjama bottoms.

Eleonora's falcons could be considered strange for a few reasons.

1 - Eleonora's falcons nest in loose colonies. Rare indeed, for raptors. They nest solely on islands in and around the Mediterranean.

2 - Eleonora's falcons exhibit dimorphism. Not sexual dimorphism... but just simple dimorphism. That is to say there are two types of Eleonora's falcons. A pale type - typical falcon colours of a dark back with pale striped underparts and a visible "moustache" - and a second type which is basically dark all over. Almost black. A cool, gothic raptor. This should explain the first "dark side" to these wonderful raptors I mentioned in the title to this blog post.

3 - Eleonora's falcons are migratory raptors. Not as rare as colony nesting raptors but notable nonetheless. EVERY Eleonora's falcon breeds on Mediterranean islands but overwinters over the central plains of Madagascar, hawking for large insects, primarily.

4 - Eleonora's falcons breed in the early autumn each year - long after most migratory birds have bred in the spring or early summer. There is a reason for this... keep reading.



Why do Eleonora's falcons wait until late July or even August and September to breed then? What on earth could be the reason for that?

The answer is relatively straightforward.

Each April or May Eleonora's falcons  leave Madagascar and return to their breeding islands in the Mediterranean.  They spend a few months hawking for cicadas, beetles etc - large insects in the main - but also take the odd bird and lizard etc. Quite often they fly vast distances from their island homes to hunt these insects. They often need to.

They start to court in the heat of the summer (July) and egg laying happens as late as August often and in September (generally) their whole modus operandi changes.

They become BIRD EATERS.

Migratory bird eaters.

Yes. They've waited until all the smaller migratory birds have finished breeding oop north, in mainland Europe and started their migration south again towards central Africa.

Eleonora's falcons then, and only then, using their rocky white Mediterranean islands as "air bases" fan out across the Med like jet fighters, and take down these small migratory birds (often birds such as willow warblers and whitethroats ( but they can take much larger birds)) as food for themselves, but much more importantly, their developing young.

They've cleverly waited until the sky literally delivers millions of food parcels past their nests, each September and October.

That isn't all though.

In 2014, it was allegedly discovered, on a Moroccan island called Mogador (which is really an Atlantic island not a Mediterranean island)...

...that the population of Eleonora's falcons there... sure... caught small, migratory birds... but instead of biting their heads off and caching the small avian corpses near their nests, for their young to eat in leaner times.... they plucked the tail feathers and primaries from their hapless prey, wedged the live birds into fissures in rocks near their nests and were therefore disabling and caching LIVE avian prey for their young. They were disabling small birds, so they couldn't fly away or escape - and keeping them alive and imprisoned or captured... so they would remain as fresh food for their young and not dry out or rot in a few days, under the hot sun. Wow and indeed, wee.

That. In case you'd not worked it out. Would be the second VERY "dark side" (of my title to this blog post) to these birds.


This caching of live prey by Eleonora's falcons has only been documented formally by researchers, once.

And quite widely poo-pooed by most other Eleonora's falcons researches who had spent years watching and documenting the more Mediterranean birds and not seen this "evil" live caching behaviour once. Not at all. Ever.

These (slightly disgruntled) experts regard this "evil falcon behaviour" to be nothing more than a hoax perpetrated by the Moroccan researchers and perhaps... on I don't know, the Mogador Tourist board.

I suppose it's entirely possible of course that the falcons of Mogador island could have learned to become evil geniuses and to cache live prey for their young - but it does seem a little unlikely, doesn't it?

Makes for a good story though, eh?

Anyway - if you are interested, do read more on this subject here and  here. Please be warned though - there are photos on those links, which show disabled (by the researchers, or fishermen of Mogador, or the falcons themselves as the researchers still earnestly-maintain) warblers, trapped on Mogador Island - as live food for the young falcon nestlings.



There you have it then.

The colony-nesting, small dark fighter jets of the Med.

The wonderfully-strange, dashing and perhaps "evil" Eleonora's falcons.

The bird with two "dark sides"?

Something I'll never forget seeing whilst swimming off the coast of Cyprus, 32 years ago this August and something I hope my boys get to see one day for themselves.




* I got an A and a B and a C by the way - and started my Zoology degree at Bristol university a month later.

Oh... and if you'd like to listen to the (quite excellent) podcast that I listened to the other day, which inspired me to write this latest blog post - you can do so here.









[email protected] (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) Eleonora's falcon encounters Fri, 12 Mar 2021 11:09:31 GMT
Two. Again. Between two and three weeks ago I blogged that one of "our" hedgehogs from last year had awoken from its hibernation and trundled to its traditional feeding spot in our back garden, where I've provided food for them for the last few years - food which foxes and cats cannot get to.

Well... it has only been up feeding since then a couple of times- but last night (very early this morning really) it was joined by a second hedgehog - and the ensuing disgruntled "grunty" battle was captured by my motion-activated miniature camera placed inside the hedgehog feeding tunnel.

The clip can be seen in its entirety below, but be warned, it is twenty-five minutes long - and this length (the longest clip by far I've ever uploaded onto YouTube) is a result of "quickly" splicing 14 separate clips together, without much editing at all.

Now, I should perhaps point out that I think, like last year, that these two hedgehogs are male. It's always quite difficult to tell what sex a hedgehog is, even if you see them engaged in courtship behaviour - as this often appears to be grumpy fighting. You could always get a video of them mating I suppose, but generally... unless you place a trail camera on the floor and get a shot of their genitals (male hedgehogs have very obvious penises, but of course you need to take a photo or video at worm's eye level to see them), it will be very difficult to sex your garden hedgehogs.

The two hedgehogs were both stubbornly-determined to either keep the food to themselves or queue jump so-to-speak - but having looked at all the footage (there's nearly two hours of it - be thankful I've trimmed it down to twenty-five minutes for you!), I don't think the second hedgehog to the food (turns up around 0215am - an hour and twenty minutes or so AFTER the first hedgehog starts eating) actually gets any food at all - nor does he (or she -I'll (re)confirm this again soon) return to get any food after the first hedgehog leaves.

I may be wrong with the above - but it appears to me that our "first" hedgehog, which we (my wife and I) both believe to be the smaller male from last year (no more than one year old) can be identified by a nick out of its left ear. Clearly visible at times on the clip below. Of course the other hedgehog could have a similar nick in its left ear too - but... well... I doubt it.


A brief, bulleted timeline of the clip below then.


1255am. hedgehog 1 arrives. Starts eating.

0216am hedgehog 2 arrives behind hedgehog 1. Tries for 30 minutes or so, in vain, to GET TO THE FOOD!

0247am hedgehog 2 gives up and leaves.

0249am hedgehog 1, knackered after the extended battle, leaves too.

0439am hedgehog 1 returns. 

0516 hedgehog 1 finally leaves for the night.


As I must have said many times on this blog, and certainly to my sons and wife - hedgehogs are incredibly noisy wee things, even when they're not battling or fighting or courting - but the noises captured in the clip below will demonstrate that for you in case you weren't aware.

The fact that we have two (at least) hedgehogs back in our gardens is a wonderful fillip. Our back garden is quite large and borders four others, two of which have recent movers-in and are having extensive work done to them (hard and soft landscaping, fencing, tree-felling etc) so we are relieved that at present, "our" hedgehogs seem to be fine.

That all said, and again, as I've written before... having witnessed this battle between two of our hedgehogs right at the very start of the season, immediately-following hibernation, I'm very mindful that I may need to provide TWO food tunnels for these hedgehogs this year - to try and avoid a situation where I unnaturally cause unnecessary competition or aggravation or even injury (by fighting or disease) to these hedgehogs, in my efforts to do well for them. Something that MANY (most?) wildlife "lovers" in the UK always seem to overlook.


That shallot for now.

Here's hoping for a MUCH better Spring and Summer 2021 than 2020 eh?

More soon I'm sure.




[email protected] (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) hedgehog Wed, 10 Mar 2021 12:26:45 GMT
110 nights. Regular reader(s?) of this blog may know that we have a few (at least two) hedgehogs that frequent our (front and back) gardens each Spring, Summer and Autumn - these wee visitors' visiting rights being somewhat facilitated by me digging tunnels under our fences in the borders and even through concrete under our side door.

Our hedgehogs disappeared in the fourth week of October 2020 - to begin their hibernation we thought - even if at the time, that seemed early - particularly so as it was hardly cold then - I'm not sure if we were close to our first frost of Autumn or Winter 2020 at that point.

Anyhoo - I've been keeping an eye on their old traditional feeding station since then (a cat-proof tunnel made from an old soffit board leaned up against our wall, and held in place with bricks) even though I've not left any food out for them since early November.

Yesterday morning, so Friday 19th February 2021, we had our smallest (we think) hedgehog awake from its hibernaculum (we aren't sure where that is although I suspect I may know) after c.110 nights - and check out its old feeding station, for a bit of a pick-me-up.

Of course, I'd not left any food there - so it quickly left.

I have a small infra-red camera in the tunnel which records any motion in front of the lens - the below is the footage that this camera shot before dawn yesterday morning.

I did leave food there last night but it failed to return for whatever reason. Perhaps it got up for a pee, a bite to eat and a stretch and has returned to its hibernation for a week or two - we'll see... the camera is still there and the motion activation software still err... activated, for want of a better word.

Anyway - lovely news from our gaff this week - all feels better in the world when "our" hedgehogs are doing their nightly rounds.

Spring.... it's coming....


[email protected] (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) hedgehog Sat, 20 Feb 2021 18:57:46 GMT
A pregnant vixen? You tell me. It's been six weeks or so since I blogged last.

You know the score I'm sure.

Work is busy.

Then there are the regular CoVid-19 tests for the weeuns. (Our most recent was this week).

The home schooling.

The lockdown.

I hope, come the late winter to start blogging with a little more frequency... but until then... I thought I'd quickly stop by and play you a 10 second (or so) video clip that I shot on my trail camera in the garden a couple of nights ago.

I pointed the trail camera at our side passage, with a view to getting clips of our cats stealing each others' food - so we could act accordingly.

Anywaaayy.... the trail camera picked up a rather rotund fox.

Now I know its winter, so the foxes' coats are thick. And it's breeding season so they're in fine form. But this fox (which I think I've seen before hanging around our garden - the dark spot at the base of the tail is a bit of a giveaway) seems at least to me, to appear to be a pregnant vixen.

Far as I was aware, foxes tend to enter peak mating season in January, be pregnant come February and give birth around late March - so if this is indeed a pregnancy and a visible one at that (rather than just a heavy set fox with a belly full of poultry for example), then this is a fox which has been pregnant for some time and is therefore looking to give birth a fortnight or more earlier than late March I'd speculate (wildly).


I may be wrong.

I am certainly no vulpine expert. Not really a fan at all of foxes if I'm honest.

Maybe someone who knows more about foxes than me (that would be pretty-well anyone) can comment below or email me and let me know if this is indeed, a pregnant vixen.

I hope you're all doing well. Coping with the cold. (I've wrapped old pairs of my pants around our exterior water pipes, in case they burst in this cold tonight. The pipes that is. Not my pants).

More soon.



Pregnant vixen?In early February? Seems a little early to me to be showing this much errr.... girth.

[email protected] (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) fox Wed, 10 Feb 2021 19:43:35 GMT
Around the birds in eighty aves. I've come up with a game this year. A game for our eldest who (surprise surprise) is really starting to get into his wildlife and birds in particular.

So.The local barn owls and kingfishers all clubbed together  this year - and got him a wee pocket bird book for Christmas (the RSPB one as it happens which is EXCELLENT, by the way) and I've challenged him to try and spot 80 different species of birds this year.

Each time he spots a species, he puts a wee red numbered sticker on that page in his bird book (and so, "ticks it off" effectively).

The three rules are simple. 

1 - He (or I, if I'm with him) must be 100% sure of the ID of the species.

2 - it must be SEEN (rather than only heard).

3 - Just because he's ticked off a bird from the list of 80, that does NOT make that bird "boring" or "irrelevant" for the rest of the year. (For kerreist's sake don't you dare turn into a "twitcher" or "birder" because of this game!).


Look I'm NO "birder" (shudder) or even a "bird watcher" let alone a "twitcher". I don't know how many species of birds I've seen nor do I count them on a list of any kind.


I do know a little about aves and I can help my eldest boy with his quest to get to 80 bird spp. this year (a total that I came up with which should be doable if we're not all confined to barracks by this dreadful government).


I'll not blog about every species we find but I thought I'd quickly post tonight on what we found today, to kick off his "Around the birds in 80 aves" quest.

If we get the odd surprise (as we did today) then I may also blog about that too.

For now though.

January 1st 2021. Target 80 spp.

34 species seen today (in order of seeing them):






Carrion Crow






Song Thrush




Barn Owl






Red Kite










Herring Gull




Canada Goose


Tufted Duck




Black-headed Gull


House Sparrow


Feral Pigeon


Blue Tit


Great Tit


Grey Heron




Egyptian Goose


Pied Wagtail








Collared Dove


Ring-necked Parakeet

Meaning we have 80-34  (46) species left to see in 364 days.

The nice surprise of the day (today) was watching a (young, female) stonechat on the edge of a new-build housing estate on my favourite local golf course (which is now, as I say, not a local golf course any more but a housing estate and a SANG instead). At first I thought it could have even been a black redstart (I don't think I've ever seen one of them) but the wee white wing patches, visible as it flew away from us, confirmed it as a stonechat - very unexpected mind and lovely to see.

Only two disappointments really today - no peregrines (we'll definitely see them within the month though, I'm sure) and no kingfisher either (ditto).

Anyway - a great start from a very local drive (30 mins) around Binfield and North Bracknell and also a 45 minute or so walk up and down a local river in the neighbourhood.

More soon I'm sure...




[email protected] (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) aves birds Fri, 01 Jan 2021 19:50:54 GMT
A little something to cheer you up. Maybe? I know.

We're all having a crap year.

So, this morning, a wee blog post to cheer you up.



Any regular visitor to this website will probably know by now that I am besotted with swifts - they are demonstrably (and by far), the best birds of all - and to that extent, I'll have no debate thankyou very much.

Now of course, it varies a little, up and down the country, as to when our breeding swifts arrive each year and indeed when they leave, but a handy average would be to think of them arriving on the first day of May each year, staying for three full months and leaving on the last day of July.

(No need to write a comment and say WELL MR RABBIT, MYYYY SWIFTS ARRIVE ON APRIL 23rd and DON'T LEAVE UNTIL AUGUST 7th! This 3 month average I've just described above is a good rule of thumb for swifts - that's all).




Swifts stay with us for 92 days each year (May 1st to July 31st inclusive).

Then they are gone for 273 days. (August 1st - April 30th inclusive).

273 days divided by two equals 136.5 days.


Let's say our swifts left us at 10pm on the last day (31st) of July. Plausible.

31st July 10pm add 136.5 days equals:15th December 10am. 


In summary.

Swifts are not with us for 273 days of each year.

Now that we've reached (or passed as it happens, today) December 15th, our swifts have broken the back of that 273 day period. We're closer in time to the date that they return to us, than the date they left.

And that, for me at least, in these miserable dark days of mid or late December, is at least a spot of light in the distance.


Keep on poddling, eh?

They'll be back soon.



[email protected] (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) swift Wed, 16 Dec 2020 09:43:03 GMT
The selfish gene and huge genitals. Not withstanding the fact that I have, for years now, thought of Richard Dawkins, (one of my earliest heroes in zoology) as an arsehole these days; in his marvellous book of 1976, The Selfish Gene, he nicks Tennyson's "..nature. Red in tooth and claw" to describe the behaviour of all living things which arises out of the "survival of the fittest" doctrine - and that's a superb quote which I'll not forget.

I was reminded of it this week whilst I watched footage of two female house sparrows fight for nesting rights (one presumes) in our sparrow/tit camera box.

We, as dull-sensed, blinkered humans, don't get to see, let alone appreciate, this sort of behaviour very often. I mean... this was a REAL battle in the box. All beak and claws. Nothing gentle about this at all. Very much red in tooth and claw.]

Many humans tend to anthropomorphise other creatures in Kingdom Animalia - or worse, "Disney-fy" them.

Some people see a hedge-full of sparrows and think they're all "friends".  (Social media is FULL of this sort of stuff - and sometimes I wonder if it's peculiarly British, or American too perhaps?).

Then, I suppose, there is "bird song".

I know, some "bird song" is lovely to listen to - most "song birds" have "songs" that yes... relax us. 

But "songs" they are not.

Not really.  

Not even music.

And for the birds themselves, these "songs" are FAR from "relaxing".

Imagine as a human, if you will, walking through a town or village (or worse still... a city)  at dawn. Or dusk. All the town's men (and some women too) of breeding age (so what... from 16 (ish) to 50 (ish)) are sitting on lamp-posts or walls or on tree branches, or on roofs or leaning out of their cars parked outside their houses or flats, or for that matter flinging their house windows open.

All have megaphones, or loud hailers. Or microphones attached to amplifiers.

And ALL are shouting at the top of the voice, about the HUGE SIZE OF THEIR GENITALS.

And how if you dare look at them or even start to approach them, they'll KILL YOU.

Unless you're a breeding-age woman of course. And up for breeding.

And they do this over and over and over again. For HOURS. For days. And weeks. And months.

As LOUDLY as they can.



Is exactly what our "song birds" are "singing".



So... the next time you're wandering through a lovely meadow of flowers and you marvel at the musical trilling of a male skylark high in the blue sky above you, consider the FACT that the foppish little twit is actually shouting as loudly as he can - that he has a MASSIVE WILLY! A MASSIVE WILLY! A MASSIVE MASSIVE MASSIVE MASSIVE WILL WILL WILL WILL WILL WILLYYYYYY.  (Also that he is the biggest, best-looking of all the birds and he will beat the proverbial out of anything and anyone that says different).

Same for that song thrush sitting on your rooftop TV aerial at dawn.

And even that nightingale "singing" with CUT GLASS clarity from inside that bush on your dawn dog walk on a May morning.

I wonder if you'll ever hear bird song in the same way as you used to....









I do appreciate that most birds don't have willies, by the way, but instead, cloacae.

But "I have a massive cloaca!"  (or a "lovely tiny cloaca" for that matter) didn't sound right to me, when I started writing this blog post.




[email protected] (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) bird song house sparrow sparrow Tue, 08 Dec 2020 17:37:38 GMT
Avian squabbles. On film. Last week I briefly wrote about the return to our sparrow/tit camera box of our old (very old now) friend, our winter-roosting male great tit.

By now I would have expected it to have spent a week of nights with us in his customary winter retreat.

Alas no though.

The next morning (26th of November) after our male great tit had spent its first night of the season in its box and returned briefly in the morning after - the box was furiously defended by a female house sparrow (who had, to be fair, been  revisiting and nosing around the box during recent days after actually nesting in it last Spring).

You'll see in the clip above that our male great tit beats a hasty retreat from the box. It actually hasn't been back since.

You'll also note in the clip above that the aggressive defender, the female house sparrow spends a little time fighting off another visitor after she's seen off the male great tit.

At the time I speculated that this bird was probably a male house sparrow (you can hear it if you listen carefully, even if you can't see it in the clip above).

Well... a day later and the female house sparrow again fought and chased off what I'm pretty certain now is a male house sparrow (the thumbnail to the video below on YouTube should confirm that to you if you're at first unconvinced).

In the clip below then, the first bird sitting in the box is a MALE sparrow. He's quickly seen off by an angry female.

No. I have no real idea what is going on here. I could speculate I suppose and suggest that the female sparrow is staking an early claim to her old nest site. She probably wants it to herself for now - certainly no great tits roosting it in over the winter and excitable males (sparrows) can probably take a hike for now too.

All this would indeed be speculation though. (I was of the opinion before last week that it was the MALES that reclaimed territories and nest sites each winter or early spring and it was therefore the MALES that defended the territories and sites and persuaded the females to (re?)join them when ready in Spring. I guess that may be wrong.

We'll keep the camera running - and the DVR recording - and see what happens as the weather gets worse.

Will our male great tit return?

Will the female house sparrow start roosting in the box overnight?

Will a male house sparrow do so instead (like last year)?

Time will tell...


[email protected] (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) camera box great tit house sparrow nest box Tue, 01 Dec 2020 12:10:12 GMT
The return of a (very) old friend. We've had a great tit use our tit/sparrow camera box as a winter roost, each winter since 2016/2017.

It returned in the winter of 2017/2018.

And again in 2018/2019.

And again last winter, in 2019/2020.

And at the end of each winter, I naturally assume  (what... I'm a realist not a Disney-ist!) it will sooner-or-later die at some point during the breeding season (or shortly afterwards) and sadly not return the following winter to roost with us again.

Great tits on average will live around three years, after all... even if they can, at best, make ten.

There had been no return yet, this November, so I confidently told the family that our wee friend had probably died (at last) during the year - and wouldn't be back this winter.

Then this (below) happened this afternoon at dusk...


I've got a few cameras now hooked up to a hard drive CCTV DVR system which record movement  -  and as I was watching the news in the sitting room, Ben bounded in and said "THERE'S SOMETHING SLEEPING IN ONE OF THE BOXES!!!"

We ran back into the conservatory (where the TV monitor and CCTV DVR system is) and sure enough - our tit was back!


I should point out I suppose, that I'm pretty confident the great tit that is now spending a 5th winter with us is the same bird that has spent the last 4 winters roosting on the north face wall of of our mountain house, under the eaves.

How can I be sure?

Well... I can't be "sure", but I'd put some money on it.

You see (and I know you know this about me) I am pretty "up" on what animals are to be found in and around our garden in any given week. Birds especially.

We've been here for 9 years now and I've NEVER seen great tits around the house, or house box, other than one great tit roost with us over the last 4 winters.

Sure... it could be that it's a different individual of the same species that I've not ever seen near the house or camera bird box, other than during the winter at roost time - but the chances of that being the case are pretty low I'd say.


This is the same bird as the bird that found the box in the late Autumn of 2016 and therefore if it makes it to May 2021, our great tit will be AT LEAST 5 years old.

And that's a grand old age for such a bird. (As I've already stated, great tits live around 3 years on average... but can make it to 10 or so years old - in extreme circumstances).

So.... we're all rather happy here this evening - welcoming our old bird back for the winter.

This year though, he (or she) has brought back to the box, for the first time that I've seen, a considerable cargo of hen fleas  (Ceratophyllus gallinae).

Ben and I watched these hen fleas bounce around the box from our handykam camera screwed into the roof of the box. They didn't stay long off the tit - jumping back into the downy feathers pretty quickly. If you're as eagle-eyed as me (and YouTube) hasn't compressed the video clip above, you may see a flea at the top of the box, very briefly).

Reminds me of when I cleared out the starling nest space in the eaves and got COVERED in fleas for my trouble.


Thought I'd let you know about our returning old friend tonight.

Another 4 or 5 winters with us and it might well be a record-breaking tit.

Cross your fingers...




[email protected] (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) great tit hen flea Wed, 25 Nov 2020 20:27:32 GMT
Black and white.

My eldest boy and I went out to see a white bird at dawn this morning. A barn owl.

But we saw it not.

We didn't see much bird life to be honest because -

what we did see was a beautifully-foggy dawn.

And a black bird.

A raven.

Cronking high over our heads and high over the fog.

A first for me away from the coast and a first for my eldest (that he'll remember anyway (he has seen some ravens on the Isle of Wight but he was only 4 or 5 at the time and he doesn't remember that).

We had a lovely walk around our foggy local countryside this morning (listening to tawny owls, grey partridge and redwing in the gloom).

A few photos I took at the time can be seen above and below.

Perhaps I should have made the photos black and white (the conditions certainly would have made monochrome photos suitable)?

Perhaps not.

You decide.



[email protected] (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) raven Sun, 22 Nov 2020 12:26:31 GMT
An avian SITREP. A few feathery notes, whilst I have a few minutes spare...


A) I found a dead greenfinch on the roof of our chicken coop, in our chicken run, yesterday.

Now, I should perhaps point out that we've not kept hens for a couple of years now, so the covered run (in which the coop sits) is empty - but wee birds can get in and out (as the walls of the run are covered in chicken wire).

The finch was an adult female greenfinch and looked in pretty good nick other than she was lying on her back with her eyes closed.

As I said to my wife and eldest boy - it's not often you happen across dead passerines just lying around - as they tend to be snaffled up by passing foxes, badgers, cats, rats, squirrels, crows, kites, buzzards, dogs, what have you. Of course in the case of this greenfinch, nothing could get into the run to carry off this free meal. I think it had been lying on the roof of the coop (UNDER the roof of the run) for a day - perhaps two. That's all.


B) Me and my eldest boy went for a dusk walk last night  - and as well as seeing our favourite local barn owl (how lucky are we to have these birds so close to us), we also saw SIXTY-SEVEN grey partridge in two "super coveys" of 22 and 45. What an incredible find that was.

Again, as I explained to my boy on hearing these (quite noisy) partridges about half a mile away from the field they were squabbling in, in order to see birds you very often need to rely on your EARS first, rather than just your eyes. We followed the sound and eventually got to see these birds flying low into a very dark field.

These partridge flew into this particular field at dusk and even through my super-duper (at light gathering) binoculars, no details on the birds could be made out OTHER than the dark horseshoes on the males' chests.

I've probably only seen a couple of handfuls of grey partridge in my life until last night, in two small coveys  - one of which in a neighbouring field as it happens. Coveys of grey partridge usually consist of around 6-8 birds, so to see two SUPER COVEYS of 22 and 45 is almost unheard of. It's like seeing a dozen or fifteen or so jays in an oak tree. Just doesn't happen.


C) Finally - I'm testing a new Defender CCTV system in several bird boxes around the house at present. My old pals at Handykam sold it to me a week or so ago - and at present I think it's just what the doctor ordered.

I bought it mainly to perhaps record swifts in our attic space after this year's partial success and thought I'd test it on a few boxes over the winter. So far it's passing the test with flying colours.

I've set it to start recording (on its hard drive) any motion in the swift attic space, the blue tit box, the cedar swift box and the hedgehog tunnel.

And over the weekend its picked up a wren visiting the cedar swift box (bet that doesn't happen again in a while) and a blue tit exploring the very cobwebby blue tit / sparrow box. (The hedgehogs were around up until about ten nights ago so I assume they've moved on or hibernated).

Yup. At present I'm very happy with my motion-activated cameras and hard drive and even though I've probably got the compression all-messed-up in the brief YouTube test video below (technical details for nerds like me are in the video description on YouTube), I think this system may become very useful in the Spring.

More soon perhaps.







[email protected] (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) barn owl blue tit grey partridge wren Mon, 09 Nov 2020 17:13:33 GMT
Burnham beeches. Don't. A little tip today, grapple fans.

If you're thinking of visiting Burnham beeches at this time (you know... to marvel at the colours of the trees), I'd advise you to give it a miss this year.

We went this morning and wished we hadn't.

The woods are completely PACKED with people (we're talking thousands... and no... I'm not exaggerating) and we don't think we've seen the famous beeches look less colourful this November, than any Novembers gone.

Up to you though of course. 

But if you do go, and are exasperated by the crowds and crowds of people meeting other households in the woods as some sort of anti-lockdown activity (yup... that behaviour was obvious and RIFE there today) and are also disappointed by the dull beeches this Autumn, then don't say I didn't warn you.

The below is the one tree in the woods I think merited a (poor) photo today.




[email protected] (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) Autumn beech Burnham beeches colour Sun, 08 Nov 2020 13:00:28 GMT
You say comaytus. I say comartus. A wee post today to doff my cap to our annual Coprinus comatus, or "Shaggy ink cap" or "lawyer's wig" that pushes up through the front lawn each October.

They never last long these fun fungi - and although (allegedly) delicious, if you were to leave one on a plate in the kitchen overnight in readiness for breakfast, you'd come downstairs to a small puddle of ink in the morning and that's all. Once they've produced a fruiting body, they basically drop their black spores (the ink) and then melt away to nothing in hours.

Our Coprinus comatus has already all-but-disappeared back into its subterranean mycelium for another eleven months, but before it "melted away" - I managed to show Ben its ink - and I rather th-ink this "shaggy mane" has now become his favourite mushroom.

Not a bad choice I'd say.


[email protected] (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) 2020 Berkshire Coprinus comatus fungus lawn lawyer's wig shaggy ink cap shaggy mane Sat, 31 Oct 2020 09:00:00 GMT
A secret in the night. T'other day I was on the turbo trainer in the garden and again I noticed something about the mock orange bush we have at the back of the back garden.

Yes... my eyes weren't deceiving me - the lower leaves of our Philadephus were spattered in bird lime.

Something was probably roosting in our mock orange each night. 

(I was thinking of a small passerine, grapple fans, not a bleedin' EAGLE or something).

So I took my wee camera up to the bush last night and a torch - to see what I could see.

The resulting video is below.

But before you watch it - have a guess.

Do I find anything - and if so.... WHAT?

A clue you say?

OK then.

There was something ORANGE in our MOCK ORANGE.


I don't recommend shining a torch into something's eyes at night (ESPECIALLY not something nocturnal like an owl or hedgehog).

Luckily for me, this particular animal wasn't *too* disturbed by my nocturnal investigations. It actually stayed put after I made a hasty retreat at the end of the video, realising I'd disturbed it. It's back again tonight - and I used a red LED head torch tonight to ensure I didn't disturb it.



[email protected] (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) Erithacus rubecula mock orange mystery rooster philadephus Wed, 28 Oct 2020 20:15:00 GMT
2020. The strangest summer of all. We're all a bit low right now, what with CoVid-19, Brexit and to rub a few grains of salt into those gaping wounds, the end of British Summer Time this morning.


A photographic blog post, containing 30 or so images which I took on our walks around the area, between May and August (only) this year.

Some of these you may have seen on this site before.

Many you won't have.

Hover your cursor over an image to get a caption and click on an image to dim the light.


I hope you enjoy looking at them - roll on Summer 2021, eh?


Grey squirrel in Great Spotted Woodpecker's holeGrey squirrel in Great Spotted Woodpecker's hole. 20th May 2020. 06:24hrs Beautiful demoiselleBeautiful demoiselle by the back garden pond. 26th May 2020. 14:25hrs

Female house sparrow feeding young in nest boxFemale house sparrow feeding young in nest box. North wall of the house. 27th May 2020. 17:20hrs Pyramidal Orchid among OaksPyramidal Orchid among Oaks. Bracknell industrial estate. 31st May 2020. 09:25hrs I've got a brand new...Combine Harvester, Sileage field. Buzzard, Ben and Kites. 1st June 2020. 16:12hrs. Ben and Daisies.Ben in Frost Folly Meadow. 9th June 2020. 15:53hrs.

Empress.A female Emperor dragonfly ovipositing (egg-laying) in a pond in Frost Folly meadow. 9th June 2020. 16:03hrs The Ox-eye familyOur boys, Ben and Finn, walking through the daisies at Frost Folly Meadow, 6th June 2020. 16:23hrs. Possibly my favourite photo of the year.

Grey HeronGrey Heron at Farleymoor lake, Bracknell. 11th June 2020. 08:53hrs Hornet MothA female hornet moth emerges from the exposed roots of our largest black poplar in the back garden. 21st June 2020. 12:52hrs Grange FarmGrange Farm, between Widmer End and Hazlemere (Buckinghamshire). Where I spent A LOT of my childhood free time, watching badgers, little owls, yellowhammers etc. I've even climbed the radio mast in this photo. 23rd June 2020. 11:53hrs. The best.Swifts alighting in our attic nest space. 24th June 2020. Photo is a merging of 30 or so photos taken between 15:00hrs and 16:00hrs.

Frost Folly Flowers.My eldest boy Ben's composition idea. My photograph. 25th June 2020. 09:56hrs

Young WhitethroatYoung whitethroat calling for an adult to feed it. In the stubble at Frost Folly Meadow, 25th June 2020 11:19hrs

Swift alighting3 photos merged into one of our boldest young (yearling I think) swift alighting in my attic nest space on 25th June 2020. 18:38hrs. Billingbear Park Golf ClubBillingbear Park Golf Club in very photogenic light. 28th June 2020. 18:43hrs SWARM!A honeybee swarm outside the 3M HQ in a Bracknell industrial estate on 7th July 2020 at 11:13hrs. Poplar hawkmoths mating.Poplar hawkmoths mating on a tree in our back garden on 12th July 2020 at 07:26hrs Slow wormMoving across a pavement in a Bracknell industrial estate. 13th July 2020. 11:49hrs Female kestrelOn barn owl post. Garth Meadows, Bracknell. 16th July 2020. 08:58hrs Frog and Lily.Frog and Lily in the back garden pond this summer. 18th July 2020. 14:20hrs Three bees.Two male buff-tail bumblebees fighting over a queen. On the London road (pavement), Bracknell. 19th July 2020. 12:51hrs Dawn.Dawn (ish) at Garth Meadows, Bracknell. 22nd July 2020. 06:02 Oxpecker?Starling on cows. Garth Meadows. 22nd July 2020. 06:07hrs SwallowsSwallows at the river Kennet, Calcot, Berkshire. 9th August 2020. 10:44hrs Kennet chub.River Kennet chub, surface feeding. 9th August 2020. 12:14hrs. King of the castle.Grey Heron at the river Kennet, Theale. 9th August 2020. 12:31hrs Finn in paddling poolBack garden fun during another "heatwave". 10th August 2020. 14:11hrs Ben in paddling pool.Fun in the back garden during one of the 2020 "heatwaves". 10th August 2020. 14:48hrs

"Eating out to help out?""Tea" at the Cricketers (pub), Warfield. 10th August 2020. 17:05hrs.

[email protected] (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) Summer 2020 Sun, 25 Oct 2020 17:45:00 GMT
You think I'm harsh? Someone suggested to me yesterday that my opinion (here) of the winning image in this year's Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition might have been a little harsh. A tad unfair?


I stand by it though.

I think that if camera trap images are to be allowed in WPOTY, then put them all in their own category. You could call it the errr.... "camera trap category" if you like (you can have that for free).

But I don't think the grand winner of the most prestigious wildlife photography competition in the world should be picked from the "camera trap" category.


So then. A few (more) explanatory notes for you, which might explain my itchiness at awarding this particular image (good though it is) the grand title...



I see in the accompanying blurb to the image, the photographer allegedly scoured the Siberian forests for ten months, in a bid to find the best place to leave his camera trap (note the singular nouns here... place and camera trap, not places nor traps).


Then look at the photo below, of Serge, the photographer, setting up his camera traps. (Plural).

There are 6 camera traps in this photo. And these are the ones that we can see. There may be more.

"He (the photographer, Serge) knew his chances of photographing one (a tiger) were slim..." 


I'd suggest his chances were actually pretty high, considering he had multiple camera traps to work with, in a national park (admittedly a HUGE national park) that is well researched and documented (in terms of Amur tiger and leopard movements - the rangers KNOW how many cats are in the park and where they are often likely to be - in fact I'm sure (I can't (re)find the link right now) that the tigress he photographed is named and numbered. The rangers know them).


Each camera trap set up (that's EACH ONE) would cost the average punter c.£3500 here in the UK.

The £3500 would be made up of a  £2500 Nikon Z7 camera, a  £200 50mm 1.8 lens and a fully functioning £600 quick release, powered, hooded scout cam box, plus various SD or CF cards and batteries etc.

Serge has six in the shot above.

So that's £21,000 of kit right there in that photo above, laydeez and gennelmen. (Although admittedly for 6 cameras, that's pretty cheap these days!).

Which he will leave in 6 places (I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt here and limiting his arsenal to 6 cameras although he may have more) to try and get the money shot that he wants. And if he failed at those six places, then he'd try another 6. Etc etc etc. He'd have the rangers' experience to draw from, to find places to leave his cameras. As well as his own, of course. But remember, the rangers have numbered these cats. They know them.

And then, after all that... he'd be reliant on the light being just right (unless he uses  expensive wireless flashes too) to get the photo(s) he wanted as the big cat took its own photo when it broke one of the infra red trigger beams.



To summarise.

I think the photo is perfectly fine.

Quite lovely.

Another commentator suggested the power behind the image was in the fact that it made the onlooker desperate to save the world's wildernesses and the wonderful wildlife in those places.


MOST wildlife photos make me think that!

But to have it win and perhaps to suggest it took REAL skill and fieldcraft and god-like patience and then finally, swiftness of technical finger out in the field, with just one millisecond-long chance to get it right (like many wildlife encounters with camera)?


Not for me, I'm afraid.





Enough of the negativity. I know I'm barking up the wrong tree (pardon the pun) with trying to tell the UK public that a photo of a furry tiger hugging a tree isn't "all that".

You love it and that's fine of course.

I don't. That's fine too.

I'll toddle off now and promise you that the next blog post I pen will come around the time the clocks go back - when we all feel a bit down - and will consist of a fair few summery photographs that I took with my wife and boys this summer (often during lockdown).

Maybe that will balance this moany post out and lift our spirits somewhat. I think we may need it this winter...











[email protected] (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) WPOTY Thu, 15 Oct 2020 19:08:07 GMT
WPOTY 2020. Oh no. Last year, I (reluctantly - I don't enjoy doing so) tore the WPOTY 2019 competition results apart, labelling it as I did, "the worst ever".

This year I actually think I'm equally as disappointed.

It seems as I'm alone though - the winning image of the tiger hugging the tree seems to have been met with universal acclaim.


Why don't I like this year's competition results?

A brief rundown then... if you'll allow.


The grand winner.

It's a perfectly-lovely image. Very detailed. Looks like an oil painting (as the judges said). But it was taken by the (known and numbered) tiger (the photographer left a camera trap (a hidden camera ) in place).

I use camera traps to take videos of owls and hedgehogs etc. My camera traps are very cheap Browning camera traps (as opposed to the very expensive infra red trigger boxes housing a several thousand pound camera that professional wildlife photographers use).

Call me an old misery guts - but I don't think camera trap images should win top awards in photography competitions. That's all.

And there are a LOT of camera trap images in this year's WOPTY.

This one. And this one. And this one. And this one. And this one. (I could probably go on... you get the picture (pardon the pun)).

I know, I know... there is a fair amount of skill needed to obtain a really great camera trap image - and an awful lot of time and patience - but if you are eventually reliant on the right light being in place when the camera triggers (the animal breaks the infra red beam) when you are literally miles and/or days away from your hidden camera - then most of the result is down to pure luck and not a lot of skill.

Ah but Doug.... you make your own luck in life eh?

Yeeaaahhhh.... you know what I mean.

So the fact that a lot of winning and highly commended images in this year's competition were taken by the animals themselves, irks me a bit.

Remember the crested macaque copyright saga?

And the disqualified leaping wolf image from 2009 (disqualified for being a model animal... but another camera trap image)?

And as far as the grand winner goes - look it's a lovely photo of an endangered Amur tiger. But that's all. To me anyway.

It doesn't make my heart beat faster. It doesn't shock me. It doesn't show me anything new or interesting. It doesn't repulse me. It's a nice photo of a big furry tiger in a wood, taken by the tiger itself.

And that... for me... isn't good enough to win THE top prize of THE world's most famous wildlife photography competition.

Finally... it's another bloody tiger. Or Lion. Or elephant etc.

There are SO many other FAR more interesting and beautiful forms of wildlife (than big mammals), to take photos of!


Other one word critiques of winning or highly commended images.






Look. I'll leave this blog here and return to the WPOTY results page a few times in the coming days to see if I change my mind about this year's results.


For what it's worth...

These are my four favourite images, personally.

(And yes... I AM aware that the first... my favourite of all... was also taken effectively by the wasps themselves too, as they broke an infra red camera trigger beam).

Never mind.











[email protected] (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) 2020 WPOTY Wed, 14 Oct 2020 14:12:13 GMT
You talk the talk but fail to walk the walk. About two years ago I wrote a blog post which may (I hope) have opened a few peoples' eyes - "Are British garden wildlife lovers HARMING wildlife?".

I'm sure it will have offended a fair few too.

I know, I know.... 2020 has been an exhausting (so far) year hasn't it? - and there are probably far more important things to get flustered by than British garden wildlife lovers demonstrating to me very clearly that they really don't love wildlife at all - they just say they do.

  • They vote Tory and then bemoan the fact that the party they've literally voted into government extend (ad infinitum?) the unscientific and desperately cruel badger cull.
  • They vote for Brexit and then wail and wring their gnarled hands in protest that a lot of the environmental (and food now) protection and standards we currently "enjoy" will be ripped up as we leave the EU  - which again... they literally voted for.... because, well... you know... asylum seekers.
  • They cover their gardens in bird feeders - and never move them nor clean them - ensuring that the avian zoonoses are passed quickly around the local bird populations resulting in many birds (some declining quite worryingly now) such as greenfinches, chaffinches and doves dying slowly from preventable diseases such as trich.
  • They put up bee hotels and  screw them to a fence facing the prevailing weather - and without thinking that the way they've screwed them to the fence will ensure that rain will collect in the larval cells (they've not pointed the hotel slightly downwards (see the photo below of one of my older bee hotels -  it's pointing down deliberately) to allow rainwater to escape.  Then they leave them in situ for year after year after year after year to get covered in fungus and parasites, thus condemning the bees that use these hotels to a particularly unnatural competition just to survive.

Bee hotel (composite)Bee hotel (composite)

  • They dig "wildlife" ponds and fill them with tap water and non native plants. Oh. And fish.
  • They mow their monoculture lawn (a desert to mist wildlife) and imprison hedgehogs in their tellytubby gardens by ensuring bottoms of border fences are impenetrable to newts let alone hedgehogs.
  • They'll happily kill all wasps and bees and hornets nests and any spider anywhere NEAR precious little Timmy and Jemima.


I could go on.


I don't vote Tory nor did I vote to leave the EU, nor do I feed birds in the garden with bought food (other than monkey nuts for jays sometimes) but I DO provide bee hotels for the non-social bees such as leafcutters and mason bees which I do find absolutely fascinating.

Yup. I wrote that blog post two years ago when I wasn't taking my bee hotels down each autumn to keep them dry and fungus free each winter.

This year though... I've decided to behave far more responsibly (at last). With the actual BEES in mind, rather than just me.

Hotel residentsHotel residents

I've taken all my bee hotels down (many with mason and leafcutter eggs in) and put them in my deserted chicken run for the winter.

Come the spring I will put them all inside a covered, empty water butt, already set up for the purpose, with an exit "hatch" cut into the side of the plastic water butt, so when the bees emerge in the late spring/summer - they can leave the covered water butt but NOT go back to their hotel to lay their own eggs etc - as their old hotel cells will still be at the bottom of the dry, empty, covered water butt - invisible to the new adult bees.

I will of course have screwed NEW hotels to the fence post right by the water butt - where the old hotels were last year.

Everyone with bee hotels should do this.

Everyone who has bee hotels screwed to walls and fences in their garden has a RESPONSIBILITY to do this.

Some may, of course. The tiniest minority.

The vast majority though, will just leave the poor bees to effectively drown or have their cells swamped in fungus or parasites.

All the while proclaiming to their friends and family and internet just how much they LOVE THEIR GARDEN WILDLIFE.


Please grapple fans.

If you DO really love your garden wildlife (and there's nothing wrong with that at all of course - far from it) ... then please ACT like you do.


  1. Buy (or make?) bird feeders and baths that are very easy to take apart regularly... to thoroughly clean them. With hot water and detergent. If they aren't easy to clean - believe me... before long you simply won't bother cleaning them at all. It takes too long. It's too awkward.
  2. MOVE your bird feeders and baths. REGULARLY. I'm talking every single week.
  3. Don't fill your pond with tap water. 
  4. Don't put fish in a wildlife pond (permanent ponds don't tend to exist outside gardens and if they do (they don't) they certainly don't have fish in them).
  5. Stock your garden with native plants that probably don't look too great - but that's what the wildlife WANTS.
  6. Leave great swathes of your garden (if you're lucky enough to have great swathes!) pretty untidy.
  7. Stay away from the chemicals (roundup and slug pellets etc).
  8. Dig hedgehog holes under your fences
  9. Take your bee hotels down over the winter (as I have done this year - see above) and put up new ones next year.

And finally....

      10. Please be honest enough to admit that you're wildlife gardening as much for yourself as the wildlife you hope to attract.






[email protected] (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) a plea bee hotels garden wildlife lovers UK Tue, 13 Oct 2020 19:44:06 GMT
BWPA. 10 years. Maggie Gowan, the organiser of the British Wildlife Photography Awards since its inception in 2009, wrote to me recently and told me that my (now infamous) photograph of a tabby cat with a blackbird nestling will be featured as part of the  touring "Ten years of BWPA" exhibition.


I am, of course, pleased. I took that particular image almost ten years ago now - and remember attending the 2011 BWPA awards ceremony at Alexandra Palace and being somewhat bemused that MY image was the talk of the town that night.

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

Good photography is more than just taking a snapshot of a moment in time - good photography is ART. And by art, I mean the image provokes a reaction in an onlooker. Often a strong reaction. Whether that reaction is joy or delight or horror or revulsion or intrigue.

My cat and bird image stood out in 2011 among many of the entries and award winners as provoking a VERY strong reaction from all who saw it.

Most people told me (and my wife - who attended the award ceremony with me) that they didn't want to look at my image. But HAD to.

Many photographers will talk of a "power" their image has - I had no need to big that image up, personally.


I thought BWPA were quite brave to include it as a commended image, but I also think (I wasn't alone, far from it) that it should have won on the night  - at least in its category of "Urban Britain".

It's slightly strange though.

12 years or so ago, when I first started taking photos, I thought my "WHY" photo below, would quickly become and remain the photo I was most associated with.


Or perhaps even my (unique) shot of a flying white (leucistic not albino) bat. Still unique on the web. Sure... people have taken waaaay better photos of normally-coloured bats, both flying and stationary and they've also taken waaaay better photos of (normally stationary) white bats (often in places like Costa Rica or Honduras or the Philipines) - but no-one, to this day has taken any photo of a FLYING, leucistic (not normally white) bat, other than me. (I think!).

Heavily leucistic batHeavily leucistic bat

Nope. Not to be. My chicken and white bat images were both eclipsed by my tabby cat and nestling shot.

I've neither had the time, nor the inclination over the last 8 years or so to enter any photography award competitions. I expect that fatherhood and various other responsibilities have hammered that home a little more than I perhaps anticipated.

But I am still taking photos. Just not as projects as such.

I do therefore sometimes wonder if I'll ever take a shot that knocks my infamous cat and bird image from its lofty perch.


Watch this space....


[email protected] (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) art awards bwpa exhibitions images photographs tabby cat and nestling Mon, 21 Sep 2020 18:02:00 GMT
Use your eyes. To sex hornets. Instead of watching Strictly? A couple of weeks ago now, Ben and I found a nice big hornets' nest in a hollow tree, on one of our wildlife walks - only the second nest I've ever chanced upon - and the nest presented me with another opportunity to teach my progeny (gawd 'elp 'em) that British wildlife is not to be feared - as long as it's respected.

Hornets for example, won't sting you, unless they feel exceptionally-threatened. (Even then, hornets, (as opposed to wasps), will probably try to bite you first, before using their sting).

We took a few photos and videos and left these beautiful insects to their tree.

Wind the clock on two weeks and I found a dead hornet on a local road (yes... my eyes are that ridiculous) about ten miles away from the nest we found, so I stopped to pick it up and took it home to Ben, so he could get a closer look at it.

Below is a photo of the (pretty mangled, I admit (must have had an argument with a car windscreen I assume)) hornet in question.

But is it a male or a female hornet?

Ben used his eyes (I'll teach him to use his eyes if I teach him nothing else, gawd 'elp 'im again) and confidently told me it was a female hornet.

*Photo of Ben's left eye (taken by me today) is below.*


He was correct.

Female hornets have stings (males don't). 

Female hornets have 6 abdominal segments (males have 7).

Female hornets have noticeably shorter antennae consisting of 12 segments (males' antennae are longer and made up of 13 segments).

Straight to the top of the class Ben!



A quick footnote.

Why is any of this important? I mean who GIVES a monkey's .... whether or not a hornet you find is a male or a female?

That's a viewpoint I suppose. An opinion. (Of sorts).

But it's one I don't think I'll ever understand, nor would I particularly want to.

If I see something, pretty-well anything.... I'll want to know what it is, what it's doing there, where has it come from, where is it going, have I seen one before, am I likely to see one again - is it amazing or interesting or weird or rare or beautiful, does it have a fascinating back story or life history, does it make a sound I can recognise if I hear that sound again, what does it smell like even?

You, on the other hand might like to errrm... watch TV?

Strictly come dancing, probably. 

Knowing you.

Hey. Each to their own I guess.


With specific regards to hornets though. If you DO learn to differentiate between male and female hornets in the field (easier than it sounds - once you've counted a few abdominal/antennal segments of a few hornets, you do quickly realise they do look quite different, males and females), you'll amaze people with your knowledge and confidence around these animals. You'll intrigue people. You'll interest people. Because.... well... you'll (yourself) be interesting. day a hornet flies into your house - you'll now be able to tell whether your beautiful visitor is a female with a sting (and best not to pick up gently in your hands to remove from the house) or a male without a sting (easy to pick up gently in a pair of cupped hands to remove). 

'Course. Knowing you... you'll just swat it with a copy of HELLO! Magazine, won't you? And settle back down to Strictly...

If this is you, can I suggest that you might like to watch a rerun of "Extinction, the facts" on BBC i-player, as soon as you can.


[email protected] (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) hornet use your eyes Sun, 20 Sep 2020 14:59:21 GMT
Like chuffing clockwork. Unfortunately. I first (I think) blogged about this in September 2012, a couple of months or so before my eldest boy was born and now, eight years on - I again see we're are being told (by our meteorologists) to expect temperatures getting very near 30 centigrade on Sunday or Monday coming.

  • This Sunday will be the 13th September and the Monday will be the 14th in that case.
  • And as yet, not since the Winter  (Jan, Feb and a lot of March) or early Spring (the rest of March and a bit of April) have we had a "killing frost" in 2020.


I mention those two points as, like bleeding clockwork, many people (whether weathermen/women or not) on and off social media and in our gutter press, will be calling the brief period of "heat" next week an....


Does my chuffing head in, this.



This is easy, everyone.


You cannot have an "Indian Summer" IN SUMMER. (Autumn begins this year on Tuesday 22nd September).

You cannot have an "Indian Summer" before the first 'killing frost'. ( I expect that to happen in late October perhaps. Perhaps later than that).

We (yet again, *sighhhhh*) are ticking NO box at all, to call the two or three days of heat at the end of our summer, an "Indian Summer".


But that won't stop the lazy dribblers calling Monday an "Indian Summer" anyway.


Just please note, good reader, that a far more accurate description of the coming two or three (or more) days of heat at the beginning of next week, would rather than "InDIAN summer" be simply... "INdian summer".


*poddles off back under the bridge, muttering to himself* 



[email protected] (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) Indian summer Fri, 11 Sep 2020 07:34:29 GMT
My eldest boy and I are grand mothers. I've been meaning to write a mothy post for a wee while now - and as I found a lovely moth caterpillar in the garden today, I thought, well... today might as well be the day I pen a few notes on three species of moths my eldest boy (Ben) and I (errr... me) have found in the garden this year.

We've found more than three species of course... but I'll quickly write about just three species in this post.



First up then.

Our wonderful hornet moths - which I've been waxing lyrical about now, all summer it seems.

Ben and I have been collecting the discarded exuviae of the hornet moths since it became obvious that perhaps a dozen or more moths would emerge from the roots of our largest poplar this summer.

The photos below (taken a few minutes ago - in early September - now that this year's cohort of emerging hornet moths have all definitely emerged (and left)) shows that between us, Ben and I collected TWENTY SIX exuviae (and three cocoons - top right of the photos).

I don't suppose for a second that we found ALL the discarded exuviae of these rather wonderful moths this summer in our garden; I mean, they're often hidden in long clumps of grass or under leaves etc; so I'd guess that perhaps forty or more hornet moths emerged from our poplar trees in our garden this year.

Amazing eh?!

We'll CERTAINLY be on the lookout for these moths next summer. But we won't be driving to a potential site ten miles away. Oh no. We'll just be poddling up the garden in our PJs.





The owner of those superb antennae that provided the cover photo for this blog.

Laydeez and gennelmen, may I present to you, a male Gypsy moth. (Yes yes, a bit like Francis Chichester's GIPSY MOTH if you're of a certain age).

Gypsy moth (male)Gypsy moth (male)

The gypsy moth's scientific name of Lymantria dispar literally means "spoiler" or "destroyer"  and "unalike".

This is because this moth is well known as a pest and a defoliator of certain deciduous trees (it can kill the tree if the tree is small) and exhibits sexual dimorphism (the males and females look very different).

Well... Ben and I aren't too bothered about finding a few gypsies in the garden - Ben loved seeing this big male moth with its huge antennae - and has named this, his "long-eared owl moth" as his favourite moth of the year. Each to their own I guess!


Finally then. Today's moth.

I finished my static bike session in the garden after work and noticed a caterpillar crawling around the hundreds of bonnet mushrooms that have all appeared overnight around the base of the thick trunk of our biggest poplar.

This is a poplar grey moth caterpillar - we've caught quite a few adults in the moth trap all summer.

The poplar grey (moth) has a pretty poor (if you ask me) scientific name of Acronicta ("nightfall"... but as these moths aren't crepuscular, what Oschenheimer really meant was Noctua) megacephala (big head - of the caterpillar that is, rather than the adult moth).

So... this moth was named the "big headed moth of dusk".

Even though it's larval head isn't really that big and it comes out at NIGHT, not at dusk.

Well... when I become Prime Minister (surely just a matter of a few short months now) - I'll put all this silly scientific naming right, dinna fash yersel.



Three moths then.

And what they all have in common, other than being moths and Ben and I finding them in our garden this year... is that they all LURVE poplar trees.

A bit like our other HYOWGE mothy highlight from this summer eh?



Might I take this opportunity to big-up the humble poplar tree.

Not many peoples' garden tree of choice - but the  wonderful, indicative sound of the leaves rustling in the wind is something you'll never forget if you're sitting under a poplar tree and lots of wildlife just loves black poplar.


That's all for now then.

Hope you're well.

And as grand at mothing as my eldest boy and me.


More soon.












[email protected] (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) acronicta megacephala</