Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images: Blog en-us (C) Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) Fri, 13 May 2022 18:28:00 GMT Fri, 13 May 2022 18:28:00 GMT Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images: Blog 120 86 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!

]]> (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.



]]> (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.



]]> (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?


]]> (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.




]]> (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.



]]> (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

]]> (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!




]]> (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.



]]> (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...



]]> (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...



]]> (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.

]]> (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.





]]> (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.


]]> (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.











]]> (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.


]]> (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?


]]> (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.


]]> (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!

]]> (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.


]]> (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?


]]> (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.




]]> (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).




]]> (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...





]]> (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?



]]> (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.

]]> (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.


]]> (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,



]]> (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.




]]> (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.



]]> (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.



]]> (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)

]]> (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.



]]> (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.





]]> (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.


]]> (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.





]]> (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.





]]> (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...




]]> (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.

]]> (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.






]]> (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.



]]> (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.





]]> (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...


]]> (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) hedgehog Tue, 20 Apr 2021 18:38:05 GMT

]]> (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?


]]> (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







]]> (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.

]]> (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.









]]> (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.




]]> (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....


]]> (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.

]]> (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...




]]> (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.



]]> (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.




]]> (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...


]]> (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...




]]> (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.



]]> (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.







]]> (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.




]]> (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.


]]> (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.



]]> (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.

]]> (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...











]]> (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.











]]> (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.






]]> (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....


]]> (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.


]]> (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* 



]]> (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.












]]> (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) acronicta megacephala gypsy moth hornet moth lymantria dispar poplar grey moth sesia apiformis Thu, 03 Sep 2020 19:03:45 GMT
Noisy blighters. We have noisy hedgehogs... noisier than most (and most are noisy after all).

But recently our hedgehogs... well.... they've been taking the mick as far as I'm concerned... pegging it around our garden of an evening, putting their blues and twos on for no reason.

Taking the mick I say.

See what I mean below.


]]> (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) hedgehog Tue, 01 Sep 2020 15:28:01 GMT
33 weeks. 33KG or 73lb or 5.2 stone. Not so much a wildlife blog today but a quick blow of my own trumpet (matron) if you'll  briefly allow.


On January 9th 2020 (exactly 33 weeks ago), I read THIS blog post from an old pal of mine.

And thought... I'm going to have to use this inspiration and do this myself.

33 weeks ago... I looked like this:


Today..... 33 weeks on from that date of 9th January....

I've lost 5.2 stone.

Or 33KG.

Or 73lb.


And look like this:


(Apologies for the hammer house of horror mug shots  - I don't have many photos of my face for obvious reasons!)


Without going into too much detail (this is meant to be a wildlife blog after all) - I achieved this feat of weight loss by counting calories (not really by eating less) and exercising enough so that I would be in a calorie deficit each day.


Look... I eat like a ravenous horse, so I've had to do some SERIOUS exercise each day.

There are no shortcuts when you're my age.

You need to move more.

MUCH more.

If you want to pig out that is.


And you may want to change a few things in your diet too.

I, for example, have stopped taking sugar in my coffees.

Stopped drinking coffee after noon. 

Stopped having hunks of cheese as a snack.

Stopped having lots and lots of bread as snacks. (I still eat bread mind, I just limit it to a few slices a day).

That's about all I changed in terms of what I actually eat.


As for exercise and movement...

I tend, at present, for example, to WALK (not run, walk) at least 7 miles EVERY DAY (not just walking around the house and garden - walking at pace - 3.5 miles an hour through the local area and countryside). So I walk (to WALK only) for two hours every day. Often at dawn. But when I can. Each day.

I also cycle for 25 miles each day. You heard me. TWENTY FIVE MILES. Often on a static bike set at uphill resistance (yes... 25 miles UPHILL!) in the garden but also often through the local forests with my eldest boy.

I also started swimming regularly too last year (a mile at a time) which helped with my mental health and sleep I think - this kicked start this whole lifestyle change this year and got me in the right mental place to really start exercising a lot. I haven't kept up the swimming this year but might start again soon.

I often burn 2000kcal on exercising (just walking at pace and cycling) each day. 

I often tend to eat between 3500kcal and 4000kcal of food each day.

As long as I'm in deficit, I'm OK.



I weigh myself each Thursday and today, for the first time I've hit my target (below 100KG). Yes... I am a big, tall bloke, but I was SERIOUSLY overweight.

I have no doubt I've lost this weight too quickly. (see the graph below). I originally gave myself about 60 weeks to  get to my target weight and have hit target WAAAY too early really.

But I have to admit, I'm rather chuffed with myself.

It's been hard.

The walking has been a pleasure in the main (did a lot in lockdown with my boys) although walking for hours in the driving rain through Bracknell's deserted industrial estates wasn't exactly fun.

I (and my boys) have seen a lot on our walks.

We've seen egrets, herons, kingfishers, peregrines, foxes, deer, toads, terns, orchids, bluebells, ox-eye daisies, barn owls, buzzards, hobbies, cuckoos. And much more. (There... this blog does have some wildlife in it!)

But to be honest, the 80 minute workouts on the bike (static bike especially) haven't been much fun.  At all.

Those sessions have been BRUTAL - and only soundtracks from the Prodigy (in particular) and Portishead have kept me going during those heart-pumping hours.


The result?

I've lost 33KG or 73lb or 5.2 stone in 33 weeks.

I've lost about 7 inches around my waist and the same sort of mark around my chest.

I've probably lost around 2 inches from around my neck.

I've had to replace most of my wardrobe and also am considering having my wedding ring size reduced as I'm worried it may just fall off my finger these days!

I also, unbelievably.... have a VO2max of 48 and a Garmin Connect measured fitness age of 20! (That can't be right surely!)


Now there may be some people reading this thinking. You're 99KG. And you're celebrating?!!! You're bleeding massive mate - you wanna eat less you know!

Hey... I'm 6 foot 3 and I am built like a brick outhouse - I'm never going to be 70KG. Never am. Never was. I AM one of those people who make the BMI method of ascertaining your healthy weight window to be utterly ridiculous as even when I was 92KG and at "fighting weight" as I used to call it (I was very much in great shape throughout my twenties and early-to-mid thirties) the BMI scale had me down as "overweight". Daft as there was no fat at all on me during those years.



That's stage 1 completed then.

Stage 2 is to not be so obsessive about calories, exercise and weight (it's been pretty strict for these past 8 months) but to try and keep these healthy habits (to a lesser degree admittedly) as much as I can to try and stay below 100KG as best I can.

Stage 3 will run alongside stage 2 and involves a little flexibility work and a little strength work, more than just cardio, which is what I have been pretty-well concentrating on for the past 8 months. 25 mile cycle rides for 6 days (at least) a week aren't sustainable to be honest and nor are 8 mile walks. As long as I stay active though... that will be fine. I'm teaching my eldest how to play golf and tennis at present and of course have, post lockdown, restarted coaching the town's U8s rugby team. All that will help I'm sure.


Right now.

I feel better.

I think I look better.

My back and hips feel MUCH better.

And despite me being 92KG for most of my adult life (each time I weighed myself in my 20s and early to mid 30s I was 92KG!)... I've not been this light since I left London with my girlfriend at the time (now my wife of course) in 2006. See the photo  (on the "about" page of this website) of Anna and myself in 2006 on the island of Kephalonia - that was me at my standard weight of 92KG... 14 years ago as I write this.

Of course I was working physically back then, and smoking... neither of which I'm doing now (I've not worked physically (for a job) since leaving London and I've been cigarette free for 4 years now, almost to the day).



That had better be all the trumpet-blowing I do today.

Stage 1 complete.

Now all I have to do is ensure I don't run out and bury myself in the biggest blackforest gateaux I can and put it all back on.

I didn't feel like I was on a weight-loss diet and exercise regime from the 9th January.

I felt like I was starting a new life, employing a lifestyle change that I could keep up... perhaps for the rest of my life.

Sure, I'll only count calories in my head for now (instead of record them all religiously on an app on the phone) and sure I won't feel the need to cycle 25 miles uphill each day... but I WILL continue the desire to just look after myself and weigh myself regularly to make sure I'm still where I want and need to be.

So again...

Stage 1 complete.

Stages 2 and 3 (see above) start today and finish ... well... when I'm finished.


A final message then to my old mate who inspired me back in January.

Thanks pal.

You gave me all the impetus I needed.



And a final, (final) message to my long-suffering wife, who has weighed (or helped me weigh) much of my food for me each evening so I could record calories consumed each day and who has also given me the space and time (a LOT of it) to disappear and exercise, sometimes for hours each day.

Thanks honey.

I hope (and think?) you'll agree... the effort was worth it, eh?

I'm back to the size (and shape) when we met in that pub cellar bar in London all those years ago!

Just a little more mileage under the bonnet these days. That's all!






]]> (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) weight loss Thu, 27 Aug 2020 06:06:30 GMT
The second of two firsts... Four days ago now (sorry!) I wrote about the first of the two firsts I'd seen this week... a toadflax brocade moth in our moth trap on 10th August. Not only a first (EVER) for me - but also a first for SU87 (our 10KM ordnance survey square).


Now to reveal the second first - a bird remember?

In Swinley Forest. (My most favourite local spot - about 3 miles from our house).



Not a nightjar. (Seen them quite a bit locally - they are my second favourite bird after all).


Not a firecrest. (Seen them up Mount Ainos in Kephalonia).


Not a Dartford Warbler. (Still haven't seen one - although I KNOW they do live in the local lowland heaths around Swinley Forest and I'm sure I'll see one eventually).


Not even a woodlark (ditto above).


All the above are real local specialists in Swinley Forest - which is a real stronghold for them in this county. But I've left one bird out.

Got it yet?

That's right!



Now be honest. Did you guess that? Probably not, I'd say.


Ben, my eldest and I were exploring the 2600 acres of forest on our mountain bikes when we found ourselves at two of our favourite dragonfly ponds. We stopped, and dismounted from our bikes, as I'd heard a bird call in the canopy that I didn't think I'd heard (EVER) before. (I'm pretty good identifying birds from their calls and couldn't remember this one).

Suddenly not one but two of these birds flew down to the pond, disappeared for a bit then strongly flew back up to the canopy showing me their orange tails (if nothing else really - just LBJs or little brown jobs, but with orange tails). No time for any photos I'm afraid - not this time.

I immediately thought redstart (female or young) but as I'd never seen one before, I couldn't be 100% sure.

But I confirmed it when I got home.

Actually... on that subject (bird identification) - here's an ordered checklist tip for anyone reading this.


If you have trouble identifying birds (or any organism for that matter) - the below may help.


1) WHAT TIME OF YEAR AND WHAT TIME OF DAY IS IT? SUMMER in the bird's case. (Perfect for our summer visiting redstart). And middle of the day. 

2) WHAT HABITAT ARE YOU IN? Large mixed forest and heath. AND the county stronghold for redstarts.

3) WHAT DOES THE ORGANISM SOUND LIKE (IF IT'S MAKING A NOISE). That call  I'd not heard before.

4) WHAT IS IT DOING? HOW IS IT DOING IT? Incessantly calling then flying down to the ground (from the canopy) to feed. VERY redstart behaviour.

Then and ONLY then... move onto 5 below...

5) WHAT DOES IT LOOK LIKE? ANY OBVIOUS FEATURES OR COLOURS? Orange tail. That's all I saw really.

Never... repeat NEVER... try to identify anything that you see on its own (that is to say without any other organisms around for comparative purposes by size - a mistake that loads make).


The above order for identifying anything you're not sure of (or perhaps have not seen before) is SO important - almost all misidentifications that I've seen people (including friends and even family) make are made because people go to point 5) first and often talk about size too. Schoolboy error.



Anyway... I'd not seen a redstart before last week. Ben and I have been back twice now (once with my wife too) and we've since seen two more of these lovely but quite secretive birds. And now that I know what they sound like, and where they are... I'm sure I'll see many more in the summers ahead (if we stick around in this area... which we really aren't sure we will).




Whilst I'm here.

This is probably just me... and today I've probably picked trees and views to photograph with confirmation bias....

But aren't the trees dropping their leaves early this year?

I mean it's barely mid August and look at the below (all photos taken this morning on my power walk around east Berks).

Surely this is too early to start sweeping up leaves?

Just me then? Or have YOU noticed this too, this year?




]]> (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) redstart Sun, 16 Aug 2020 19:02:14 GMT
Just the 46,000 then? Before I reveal the second of my two recent firsts (that being the bird (species) that I saw for the very first time (ever) in the Swinley Forest t'other day) -  I thought I'd quickly draw your attention to the below - something I was alerted to by the BTO a few days ago.


Please do take the time to watch both short video clips and visit the hyperlink provided - quite the eye openers.

The best birds of all.


And I miss them dreadfully, already.


Large movements of Swifts moving east along the south coast of Britain are a well known phenomenon, occurring between mid June and mid July. Counts during these movements can regularly exceed 10,000 birds. The origin of these is unknown, but the general consensus appears to be that the majority of Swifts noted are likely non-breeding adults and immatures.


This year a large passage was noted between 27–29 June, especially at sites in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire. At least 16,000 Swifts were counted moving south on 28 June, but it was the following day that broke all records with over 46,000 noted at Gibraltar Point, Lincolnshire. The latter count represents a new British record, and video footage from the site gives an impression of the incredible numbers involved.



Gibraltar Point Common Swift passage from BirdGuides on Vimeo.


Gibraltar Point Common Swift passage from BirdGuides on Vimeo.

]]> (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) swift Sat, 15 Aug 2020 18:53:21 GMT
The first of two firsts... I was originally going to lump in both these reports together. In fact I was going to lump them in with a few other reports, to be honest.

I've given this some thought, though - and I think each of these two "firsts" deserve their own blog entry.

This is the first then, of my two "firsts".


Two days ago, on Monday 10th August 2020, I saw two animals locally that I've not seen before. AT ALL. Anywhere.

Tomorrow (or very soon anyway) I'll tell you about the second, which you'll see below, is a bird I saw in Swinley Forest.

But tonight - I'll talk to you about the first first - a moth.

Not only a first for me - but a first for the 10KM square (SU87) that we currently live in - as confirmed by Martin Harvey (the Berkshire moth recorder and biological records guru who kindly confirmed my tentative ID when I asked him to). 


I occasionally set up my battered old moth trap (a very weak 15W thing) in the back garden - and have done twice  (or thrice) over this recent heatwave - as my eldest Ben likes to see what moths are around - as does his Daddy, to be fair.

On Monday morning, we realised we had a beaten-up Toadflax brocade (Calophasia lunula) moth in the trap -  on the red database, not at all common in the UK (likes southern coasts and that has been that for some time to be honest ... although Martin Harvey also suggested to me via email when confirming my ID that he had had quite a few reports this year, suggesting the hot spell had been beneficial to their movement north and colonisation around the home counties perhaps?)

The scientific name for the toadflax brocade moth, by the way, is Calophasia (meaning [looks like a piece of] wood) lunula (little moon (from the dorsal half of the postdiscal fascia - lunate shaped , or like a wee moon - see photos below or better still HERE)).


Well... after Martin kindly confirmed my ID and also told me that he had never seen one  himself before... I enrolled on i-record and submitted my report. (I also added my report of the bird that I saw for the first time later in the day too).


I know our toadflax brocade moth was a little beaten up - but it was a little gem too - and I'm more than a little proud to be the first person to report one in this particular 10KM ordnance survey and therefore biological records square.


That's the first first then.

I'll reveal what my second first (so to speak) was tomorrow. A bird, remember? In Swinley Forest. 

Have a guess if you like - and I'll reveal all very soon.




]]> (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) Calophasia lunula firsts toadflax brocade Wed, 12 Aug 2020 19:25:15 GMT
Three hedgehogs again? This year I've been keen to establish how many hedgehogs are visiting our gardens again each night - especially as we've had at least one killed on the road last year and also new neighbours move in to a house adjacent to the bottom of the garden who have taken out ALL the cover in their small garden  - a garden which I know the local hedgehogs (and foxes) used to love.

I've not put my best trail camera out much this summer though. (In the garden that is, to see whagwan). But I did last night. I positioned it near the house, pointing towards the hedgehog food bowl hidden behind a water butt and a pile of junk basically that prevents foxes and cats stealing the hedgehog food (I know it looks like a mess, this hedgehog food "den" behind the water butt - but it serves a purpose, and it's not like we've had many human visitors in 2020 to show off our errr... pristine patio to, eh?).

The short video of four clips spliced together can be seen below.

In summary:

12:27am. Hedgehog 1 (white)  with a noticeably pale (marked or scuffed) arse. Ignores food behind water butt. Leaves through tunnel under door.


02:01am Hedgehog 2 (black)  no pale arse. Deliberately ignores food behind water butt. Leaves through tunnel door - and more importantly the sensitive trail camera does NOT pick up its return over the patio. There is NO other quick way back into the back garden other than back under the door again and through the side passage. Any other return would involve a trip around the block and through at least three neighbouring gardens (I'd estimate quarter of a mile trip and well over an hour ... even for a hedgehog not stopping much to feed at all).


02:51am Hedgehog 3? (Yellow). Look. This COULD be hedgehog 2 again (no pale arse), but for that to be the case, why is was its about turn by the door and return over the patio NOT picked up by this very sensitive trail camera and why did it deliberately ignore the food at 02:01 only to clearly and deliberately head straight to the food 50 minutes later and eat for five minutes. No... I'd say the chances are overwhelmingly in favour of this being a third hedgehog then.


02:56am Hedgehog 3? (Yellow). Finishes eating and leaves under side door tunnel like hedgehogs 1 and 2 before.


Have we, at present, got three "snufflers" each night? 

You decide.


]]> (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) hedgehog Wed, 05 Aug 2020 06:48:13 GMT
Neowise was NO Hale-Bopp. Mars, Saturn, Milky Way, Jupiter from the Isle of Wight.Mars, Saturn, Milky Way, Jupiter from the Isle of Wight.

Let me take you back 23 odd years.

To 1997.

(I know... that was indeed almost a quarter of a century ago now. Ridiculous, eh?)

Before Brexit.

Before Covid-19.

Before Trump. (Bill Clinton began his 2nd term in 1997).

Before Boris Johnson. (Tony Blair won a landslide in 1997 remember?)

A gurt big comet hung in the night sky for over a year during 1996 and 1997 as you may well, like me, remember. It became part of the nocturnal furniture as far I was concerned, as it hung above my three-floor flat, during my hard-drinking, hard-smoking and hard-partying time of my life (I was a bachelor bakery manager at the time, without wife, kids, mortgage or any responsibilities to be honest - and so enjoyably lived life virtually feral).

But even through the beery-haze of the 1990s, I remember comet Hale-Bopp.

Back then though, I had no camera and wasn't therefore taking any photos of anything.

In fact, back in 1997, I'm pretty sure I didn't even have a mobile phone - let alone a "smart phone".  I think I got my first mobile phone in 1999 in case you want to know. And I "got" my first email address a couple of years later I think.  (I genuinely wish we could go back to a time without emails and mobile phones by the way... I DREAM of starting work of a day WITHOUT logging on and sighing at another load of blessed emails).


Anyway... I do remember Hale-Bopp and AM interested in comets and eclipses and moon phases and space stations and meteor showers.

And I DO have a camera now.

And I have some experience of taking photos of the night sky (see above - the milky way, Mars, Saturn and Jupiter (can you spot them all?) taken from the south coast of the Isle of Wight).


So... I went out at 2230hrs last night, to take a few photos of the stunning comet Neowise, that I've been reading so much about and seeing images of, everywhere.



The two photos I got are below.

Have a look at them.... and see if you can spot the spectacular comet Neowise. It's in BOTH shots by the way.

Having trouble seeing the SPECTACULAR comet Neowise?

Yes... so was I last night.

I was very disappointed to be honest - Hale-Bopp was truly SPECTACULAR - but Neowise well... just isn't, even if, in its defence, it is almost faded beyond visibility now as it heads towards the sun.

Scroll down to the end of this post to see the images above again, only this time with the comet pointed out and enlarged.

Anyway... even though I'm glad I saw it (and to some extent glad I took a photo of it), no....

Neowise is no Hale-Bopp.




Scroll down...




















Keep scrolling...










]]> (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) comet comet Neowise neowise Fri, 31 Jul 2020 16:12:15 GMT
The lucky ones.  

Many people (retailers generally) would try to have us believe that Christmas is "the most wonderful time of the year", but I'm afraid I've always disagreed. Christmas for me is the worst time of the year. Always has been. Well... since my late mother was  (typically, I'm afraid) kind enough to tell me on one Christmas eve in the early '80s (perhaps 1981, I can't quite remember) that she was splitting up from my father, who, at the time, I think, like most young boys, I probably worshipped. 

No. Christmases for me were days spent with people I probably didn't want to spend time with, in areas of the country I probably didn't want to be in, sat in clothes I certainly didn't want to be dressed in, often eating food I really didn't want to eat, on the shortest, darkest, wettest, coldest days of the year.

Then of course, since the early '80s (for me at least) there has been the constant pressure to bankrupt oneself buying people expensive presents. I could tell you some (all-too-true) heart-breaking stories of (again my mother in particular) being pretty nasty to me on unwrapping her Christmas present from me - often bought with paper round money I'd earned for months. 

Ready to swing from the nearest oak yet?

Well... this specific, current time of year for me runs Christmas a pretty close second, for being the worst time of the year.

The fourth week of July.

When my beautiful swifts abandon me.

For nine long months.


I absolutely HATE it when the best birds of all leave our skies - skies that seem so noisily-full of life on one day in July can feel SO empty the next.

I'm reminded on these days (and evenings in particular) why swifts are so amazing - and to me at least, make all other birds look second or third rate.

To me, there are swifts. And then there are ALL other birds.

I try not to be too besotted or obsessed with any one thing in life - but I'm afraid that principle is shattered as far as I'm concerned, with swifts. I fully admit I'm completely besotted with these birds  - and I suffer for some time at the end of July, when I watch them (as I ALWAYS do) leave.

This year I became acutely aware that they were "orf" last Thursday evening, when the regular evening screaming laps around the house felt very different and brief and on Friday evening I watched dozens head south, high above the house, with only one or two low sorties and screams at our house.

My wife saw a swift yesterday and has done again today (I've been a little busy) and I'm sure I'll see a few before the first week of September (September 5th is the latest I've EVER seen one in Berkshire) but for now, around the house, the skies seem horribly empty - and will feel like that to me, until early May next year.


On the flip side though - and this large, black cloud does have a silver lining.... we've had the best year ever at new "Swift Half" for swift visits. Since late May and certainly early June we've had swifts visit the house every day, sometimes all day - and for the first season ever, we've had at least one swift actually enter and explore the attic roof space I've created for them and have been hoping to attract them to (to breed) for almost ten years now (as regular readers of this blog will appreciate).

I think those explorers were 2nd year birds so may (if they survive the trip to and from the Congo this and next year) do a dry-run nesting attempt next year with us if we're incredibly lucky - and if they manage that and survive another year, then (and only then) will they actually breed properly in our attic.

But... they may not survive that long. And they may have found somewhere else anyway. And remember, we had visitors to our attic space (or at least the tunnel TO our attic space) in the heatwave of 2018 too - and yet we had basically NOTHING last year.

So... who knows?

My hope has been reignited after this fantastic swift year here - and perhaps that is why I'm feeling even sadder than normal for the 4th week of July - because the skies around the house this year have indeed been so full and noisy (screams of up to half a dozen swifts for WEEKS now), that suddenly now, it really does feel so bloody quiet and empty.

Maybe it's that, as well as 2020 being just a bleeding awful year all round - what with CoVid19 and Brexit, not to mention the bleeding clowns in charge of our government at present.

Anna and I are SERIOUSLY considering our futures right now and whether we even HAVE a future in this shameful country of thick, selfish, deluded, arrogant, nasty, racist charlatans and liars. (NB - that's just England I'm talking about - not the UK as a whole).

I honestly wish that I could leave with the swifts right now!

This feeling won't last too long I'm sure. Well... I hope not. But right now, silly as it seems, I need to be kind to myself. In about two weeks I won't have smoked a cigarette in FOUR YEARS. And for the first time in years, I really missed sitting in the garden with a beer and a ciggy, toasting the departure of my swifts. 

Oh look... I'm not going to take up smoking again and I'm not going to hit the bottle nor comfort eat (I've worked very hard and lost nearly five stone since January and am thoroughly enjoying being my old shape again) ...but I am going to make time to do a few things I enjoy over the next couple of weeks - just to get over this most acute of annual mental slumps, this particular year.



Finally then.

God speed to all the beautiful, amazing swifts leaving our shores now or very soon.

Be safe.

And I will see you again next May....






I took the photo below of our swifts leaving us last Thursday evening - you might also want to consider playing the YouTube clip below,

"Lucky ones by Luttrell (Leaving Laurel remix)" as this is the music I listen to when the swifts leave us.

It will also be the music I'll listen to when (and it will be a 'when', not an 'if') they return next May.


The lucky ones, that is.








]]> (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) swift Sun, 26 Jul 2020 14:58:02 GMT
More hornet clearwing moths. I think that Ben (my eldest son) and I have between us, found about fifteen pupal exuviae and/or mud casings that surrounded the exuviae of emerging hornet clearwing moths this summer, around our largest black poplar - and we have between us, found three adult moths whilst they've been emerging.

Lovely wee beasties - and the latest, yesterday, I filmed and photographed in detail (see photos and extended video clip below).

Hornet (clearwing) mothHornet (clearwing) moth Hornet (clearwing) mothHornet (clearwing) moth Hornet (clearwing) mothHornet (clearwing) moth

I should point out that in the video below, I slow the moment of first lift-off of this hornet clearwing down to 5% speed and write that it will make it sound like a helicopter. As it DID when I edited the video. That said, I must have ticked the "no sound" box in that particular clip for the finished, edited video, so in the video below, that slowed-down clip is silent I'm afraid and doesn't actually sound like a helicopter. You'll just have to take my word for it, that when you DO slow down the video (and sound) of a flying hornet moth - it really does sound like a "WOP WOP WOP" helicopter.  Honest!

I keep saying to Ben that I really don't think we can expect to see any more emerge now - as it is late July after all. But who knows? We're still checking each morning and will do I think, until August arrives...

]]> (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) 2020 Berkshire black garden hornet clearwing hornet clearwing moth hornet moth July poplar Sesia apiformis UK Wed, 22 Jul 2020 13:57:41 GMT
370 days. A year ago (almost exactly), you may remember that I blogged about a leaf-cutter bee nesting in our side-passage wall outside the kitchen.

That was July 9th, 2019.

On July 14th, 2020, one of the bees (possibly the only one) that spent the winter in its drill hole in our masonry, sealed in by its mother, with a locked, leafy door, emerged.

I admit I didn't see it emerge - but I did notice the hole it had made on emerging.

370 (full) days it had been in that hole.

As an egg. And a larva. And finally emerged as an adult.

Circle complete.


]]> (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) brick hole leaf-cutter bee megachile wall Mon, 20 Jul 2020 12:57:00 GMT
Now that's a first! As we get to the last week or so of swift activity around the new "Swift Half" and I become genuinely inconsolable for a wee while because of this inevitability each year - something of a surprise this morning and most certainly a first.

As is the way, these days, I tend to try and find time to complete a seven mile walk around the area, at some point, every day. Often I'm with my two boys but sometimes I'm on my own (at weekends generally). 

This morning, my seven mile walk was a solo affair - and began at 0645am.

As I walked alongside a thick(ish), tall hawthorn hedge, running down a lane which bordered a very large school field (which used to be my local golf course up until a few years ago), I noticed something about 8 foot off the ground, in this hedge. Something organic. Something that looked like one of those toy rubber chickens or perhaps a baby wryneck. All stretched out and elongated... and motionless.

Unlike one of those toy, rubber chickens though, this thing had feathers - feathers indicating it was a moorhen (the feathers were grey in the main, but the moorhen's white "petticoat" feathers were clearly visible.

Now... this hedge is NOWHERE NEAR any water - and as the moorhen was something like eight foot up the hedge, stretched out (long neck) and completely motionless... I assumed it was dead. Perhaps it had flown into this hawthorn hedge (by accident) and died. Perhaps a dog had killed it ealier in a walk and the dog's owner, somewhat embarrassed, had tossed the dead moorhen into the hedge, where it now effectively, hung.

I had my camera (my wee pocket panasonic), so I moved towards the motionless moorhen, stretched out inside a hedge, eight foot off the ground and raised the camera to take its photo.

And the moorhen suddenly flapped and flustered and popped out of the hedge a few feet away from me, ran down the path in front of me and disappeared. 

I got no photo

I've occasionally seen moorhens fly, sometimes quite high in the air - and I've often heard moorhens fly overhead at night. Those strange sounds you may sometimes hear, at night, made by birds clearly (but which birds?!) are very often made by rails or moorhens or coots or grebes - birds that one doesn't often see fly during the day - but I don't mind admitting - until this morning, I'd never seen a moorhen in a hedge, nowhere near water, pretending (as I'm sure it was) to be dead or a branch, so it wouldn't be noticed by me.

I've read since this morning, (here for example), that moorhens can and DO enlongate their bodies to get through dense vegetation and can and DO eat haws and roost/nest occasionally in hawthorn hedges.  But I still am confused by this particular moorhen this morning, high up this hawthorn hedge, doing its rubber chicken impression - as there genuinely is no water around that hedge - for at least half a mile. Not even a drainage ditch of any real merit.

Well... you live and learn don't you?

Next time... I'll be quicker on the camera.

Until then.

Keep 'em peeled.




]]> (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) hedge moorhen Sat, 18 Jul 2020 14:14:17 GMT
The mimicker meets the mimicked (and thus its maker). Just a wee one today.

Two days ago whilst looking at the flowers on our "back lawn" (more like a meadow really full of white clover, birds foot trefoil and self-heal), I found a median (or french) wasp, Dolichovespula media, attacking and killing a hornet hoverfly (Volucell zonaria).

This king of hoverflies, Volucella zonaria, is superb at mimicking hornets or I suppose, median wasps, which are themselves, sometimes confused with hornets by inquisitive humans. They need to be good at mimicking the wasps and hornets though; as female hornet hoverflies must lay their eggs in wasps' (and hornets' and bees') nests and have their larvae develop inside these nests as commensals.

This adult, wasp-mimicking hoverfly was meeting the wasp it was mimicking though - not in a good way - and so ended up meeting its maker too.


Incidentally - 

The median wasp (Dolichovespula media) is easily recognised as such (as opposed to being a common wasp (Vespula vulgaris) or a German wasp (Vespula germanica)) because of its long (that's what "dolicho" means, dontchano?) body, two of its four (dorsal) thoracic spots are brown (the other two are yellow) and it has brown and yellow "inverted 7" marks on the sides of its thorax.

The median wasp is also known as the "French wasp". Again, as opposed to the German wasp.

French wasps nest in trees very often, in suspended paper nests, whereas German wasps nest underground. In *cough*, bunkers.

French wasps are also (I'm not joking!) easier to chase away and less aggressive than German wasps.

I' think I'll leave you with that thought.





]]> (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) dolichovespula media french wasp hornet hoverfly median wasp volucella zonaria Fri, 17 Jul 2020 09:45:00 GMT
Slow-ly does it. I've seen quite a few grass snakes in the wild, without deliberately looking for them, that is to say by deliberately lifting up old bits of corrugated iron placed as reptile homes in nature reserves). I've seen them on golf courses and in London rivers and in Berkshire peat ponds. Grass snakes that is. 

But up until a day or two ago, I honestly don't think I'd ever seen a slow worm without deliberately setting out to search for one (using the same corrugated iron technique described in bold above).

I was walking around Bracknell Forest (the town and countryside) again yesterday, as I've done pretty-well each day for months now.

And happened across this wee thing - crossing a bridge over a SUDS pond in a (deserted) business park.

A young slow-worm.

And, like I say, a first for me, in that I've only ever seen slow-worms before seeing this one, after DELIBERATELY LOOKING FOR THEM.

A lovely, unexpected treat - and just to finish this post, I'll leave you with  a very short video of my encounter - here.

Keep 'em peeled, eh?




]]> (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) slow worm Wed, 15 Jul 2020 18:12:18 GMT
In the buff. At present, I am using a "turbo trainer" to get 1000 calories burned off quick as you like in the back garden. Easier than I make it sound, mind.

I've screwed my old racer bike to it and to be honest, even though it's quite hard work - it's also quite fun, in an "I like to birch myself" kind of way.

I bought it (the elite fluid turbo trainer) from ebay for a couple of dozen quid, as a cheap replacement to my all-singing-and-dancing static bike that broke under my immense mass* about two weeks ago.

* (Actually I've been on a real health kick since January 9th this year and have lost... wait for it..... well over FOUR STONE since that day in January where I read a blog post from an old pal and thought on that very day... you know what... I need to do that too!).

Anyway... I digress.

I was in the garden t'other day, under our largest poplar at the far end of the garden, well away from the house and on my turbo trainer, when I noticed a mouse-sized moth fluttering under one of our mock orange shrubs. I immediately recognised it as a poplar hawkmoth and thought I'd dismount from my bike and have a look at it. (You don't get this sort of distraction in gyms do you?!)

A closer inspection revealed this moth to yes, be a poplar hawkmoth, but a buff (or pink) form - so almost certainly a female - and freshly emerged from her subterranean pupa, where she had been for the previous nine or ten (more like it) months.

Most poplar hawkmoths are grey in colour, certainly the males anyway and most females, but quite a few females are much more colourful - buff or even pink in colour - and this was indeed the colour and form of our freshly-emerged female poplar hawkmoth.


She was floundering a wee bit though (poplar hawkmoths can't fly for the first day and night of their adult (winged form) lives), so I helped her onto a trunk of a tree where she could hide, sit still and pump out her pheromones  overnight. Ben, my eldest, was transfixed at the sight of such a large moth and proceeded to take photos with his new wee pocket camera.

She seemed to climb about ten feet and then settled down amongst the ivy. So I got back on the bike to finish my 25 miler (that's the length of my sessions these days) and Ben went back inside.

I didn't think much of her that evening or that night - but I did wander back up to the tree the following morning, to see if she was still OK (she wouldn't yet be capable of flying).

And look what I saw!

Ben was beside himself with excitement - as I suppose, in a mothy-way, was the male moth that she had enticed down to her, overnight.

Her pheromones had done the trick alright - and sucked in, like a tractor beam, a passing male, who fancied a bit of female moff, in the buff, quite literally.

There they stayed for a full 24 hours, locked together in a mothy carnal embrace.

And the following night, last night that is, as the flying ant swarms settled and were replaced in our garden at least, by two HUGE male stag beetles, these two moths, flew away.

I hope that the female is now laying dozens of eggs on the undersides of our millions of poplar leaves in the garden - I may not find them... but I bet I see a caterpillar or two or if not a caterpillar... an adult, maybe next year.

Keep 'em peeled, eh?




The scientific name for the Poplar hawkmoth is Laothoe populi.

Laothoe was one of the concubines of the famous King Priam (king of Troy during the Trojan war) and the name Laothoe literally meant (at the time):  "nimble people".

Poplar hawkmoths are interesting for a number of reasons, not least of all in that they lack a "frenulum" matron, (a series of bristles or hook-like structures on the wings of most moths, which keep hind and forewings locked together at rest and synchronise wing movement when flying). This means when the poplar hawkmoth is at rest, it can hold its hind wings much further forward than most moths can - which provides a unique look to a resting poplar hawkmoth - all four wings are spread like a bunch of four small leaves.

But you knew all that already, I know.





]]> (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) 2020 Berkshire buff form garden Laothoe populi mating poplar hawkmoth poplar hawk-moth summer UK Mon, 13 Jul 2020 19:24:09 GMT
SWARM! This has been my daily (pretty-well) view, during this pandemic - as I've pushed my younger son around Bracknell Forest whilst my elder son has walked alongside me.

Today, I managed to push the buggy through a swarm of honeybees. (Not by design I hasten to add!).

I THOUGHT I had my wee pocket camera on "video" mode and set about videoing this swarm of bees, only the fourth (or fifth?) aerial swarm I've ever chanced upon (away from their home in a tree or hive that is).

But as the swarm disappeared into the grounds of the 3M building (RG12 8HT)  in a Bracknell industrial estate, I realised my camera WASN'T set to video, but to Aperture priority (my mode of choice) photo mode instead.... so I quickly got off one shot (below) and that was that - the swarm disappeared.

Please note. My wee boy and I were in NO danger from this swarm of honeybees and (of course) neither of us was stung.

I also have reported this swarm on the beeSwarm website (as should you I suggest, if you see one).

Keep 'em peeled, eh?



]]> (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) honeybee swarm Tue, 07 Jul 2020 11:37:10 GMT
The three waves of swifts. First things first. In case you weren't aware, this week (if you're reading this between June 27th and July 5th, 2020) is Swift Awareness Week.

I know, I know.... you've tired of "left-handed awareness day" and "brown sauce month" and "movember" and smurf appreciation week", haven't you... but swifts... well they (of course) deserve an awareness week. In fact, if you agree with me, you'd say they need an awareness week.

Covid 19 has put the kaibosh on a lot of the planned, physical activities, but there is still a lot going on (see the end of this blog post for a few details).


Secondly - I thought I'd put a little more meat on the bones of the story this year of our visiting swifts - swifts that have now THREE TIMES (this week) entered and explored my attic space - which regular readers of this blog will know I got very excited about t'other day.

I also got excited about swifts entering my (swift) tunnel (matron) in 2018 too - but no joy at all (of any description) last year - so what IS going on?

The wee picture below will explain all in terms of the three waves of swifts each year, but please remember that these wave dates are based on a site at altitude, by Lake Geneva (several 100 miles south of us) - so you can add a week or two (at least) to these rough dates below.



Now. What of my visiting swifts?



These interested swifts (above) arrived on 8th June. Bearing in mind the above (and my dates alteration) and also the fact that this swift pictured (above) only has a wee pale patch under its gob - well... that would suggest (not guarantee, suggest) that this is a second wave swift. A two or three year old swift. These interested swifts did NOT pre-breed, but just were "bangers". (Flying up to the swift entrance and banging on it). Which would make them two years old, not three.

Why didn't they return last year to pre-breed and this year (when they're four years old) to breed?

You tell me.




No visitors of any sort really, other than a couple of swifts flying by at dusk, every so often, giving a wee scream to the swift call MP4 playing from our roof.




LOTS of interest in my attic space. (I took down the habi sabi swift boxes as to be blunt... they're awful - read my comment to this blog).

But how old are these visitors - and which wave do they belong to - will they finally breed in our attic next year?

OK... our first very interested swift  (below) arrived on June 15th.


Which... as per all the above, could make it wave 2 or perhaps wave 3. It has what I'd call a medium white throat... (young swifts have a very noticeably-white throat). But... it didn't pre-breed... it just "banged" for a bit. So.... if someone put a gun to my head... well... I'd guess (bit of a stab in the dark really - I didn't get great photos of these swifts) it is two years old again - rather like the swifts that arrived and entered my tunnel (matron) in 2018. So... if this swift (these swifts... there were a few) survive this year, get back down to the Congo again and return safely next year, they may then be three years old and "pre-breed". Enter the attic as a pair. Produce sterile eggs. Have a first go at it all, basically. Lots of big ifs there, mind - the biggest of all, of course, being that I'm calling these swifts two years old but I don't know that for sure. And if they do that, maybe they'll be back in 2022 to properly breed at four years old? If they survive that long, can avoid the Mediterranean guns and all that migrating - and of course we are still here at the new "Swift Half" to see them back?!


Finally then.

The most recent excitement came just a week ago now - and continued for a few days in good weather (nope... I don't know where all that hot sun went either).

These swifts arrived around the 25th June, maybe a few days earlier. Generally in a squadron of three-five - and this was the squadron that alighted in my swift tunnel and then EXPLORED inside the box (we have a camera in the box, piped wirelessly down to an old portable TV in the conservatory - and Ben, my eldest, noticed a swift in that box (a box built INSIDE the attic - for bird ringing purposes eventually), first.

I got a great photo of this bird, see below - in strong sunshine.

You can see this bird has a very white throat - and the lateness of its arrival would strongly suggest to me that this bird was born last year. If that is the case AND it survives another few years and trips to and fro' the Congo, it may not properly breed with us until 2023, i.e. when it becomes four years old. 


Can I wait that long? 

Guess I may just have to!


I will have been desperately trying to get my favourite bird of all breeding with us here since 2012, after filming them in our attic at our old house in Reading in 2011.

Next Spring will be my tenth spring at our current house, the new "Swift Half", calling them down from the skies.

2023  (if I'm right about the bright swift above - and that is the year that it actually breeds with us, if it survives that long) will be my twelfth year at it.




Wildlife doesn't half teach you patience, eh?







Swift awareness week. Some details...

Edward Mayer was interviewed by David Lindo (The Urban Birder):

Hampshire Swifts are encouraging records of nesting swifts, have a self-guided trail round Lymington and doing social media work.
Tideswell, Derbyshire: promoting swifts in the village and via the recently set up Environment Group there.

London (Mike Priaulx): The swift spotting hour was 8-9pm on 28 June, Search for #LondonSAW2020 on Twitter or Instagram or view LondonSAW2020 on Facebook for sightings.

For those in London, submit your sightings:

Ely/Dick Newell: a sign installed drawing people's attention to the Swift boxes on various key buildings there. (Dick adds: “The Swifts can obviously read, because they are already going in and out of 6 out of the 12 boxes!”

Taverham (Norfolk) Swifts - leaflet drop.

Hull and East Yorkshire Swift Group working with Hull City Council & Yorkshire WT have installed 6 Swift boxes on the Guildhall in Hull.  Press release this week.Plus  leaflet drops and five boxes to be installed too.

N. Norfolk Villages (Thornham area) - leaflet drop in areas where swifts are thought to be nesting.

Truro: leaflet drop

The Guardian’s Country Diary Tuesday 30th was about swifts, written by Mark Cocker: .

 A guest blog by Mike Priaulx will be on Mark Avery’s blog:

 Hackney Swifts (Henrietta Cole) - online quiz plus a swift spotting hour. (Open to all but you need to register for the quiz 8pm 2 July).

London (organised by Islington Swifts/Mike Priaulx). Unguided Swift spotting 8-9pm 28/7.

Bradford on Avon (Rowena Baxter) letter in The Wiltshire Times ( for 26/6)

Altringham (Tanya Hoare) webinar on swifts with a local natural history group. 30/6.

North Wales Wildlife Trust (Ben Stammers) swift feature on Radio Cymru’s natural history programme 27/6.

Macclesfield (Tina Hanak) a series of activities for the local Wildlife Explorer group members and see #MaccSwiftAdventure to follow the giant swift called Emily!

Adderbury & Deddington, Oxon, (Chris Mason) - local articles about swifts promoting self-guiding trails.

Landbeach (Dick Newell) - see   Date Tbc.

Holland Park & Edward Mayer - online Zoom talk about how to help Swifts - Thursday 2nd July at 18-30 To book contact by e-mail =

Bolton & Bury (Louise Bentley) live event on Facebook re. swift boxes. Tcb.

Kingsteignton Devon (Alistair Whybrow) 28/6 a stall at the church with leaflets/nest boxes etc and an article in a local paper.

South Normanton (Helen Naylor) exciting range of activities for infants at her school.

Ludlow (Peta Sams) article in Ludlow paper

Shropshire Wildlife Trust (Sarah Gibson): press release and social media work. .

Derbyshire: blog on DWT website, local radio interview (26/7), social media activity, press release.

Aldeburgh Swifts video sent to those who have had Swift boxes fitted (over 150 boxes so far!)

Isle of Man: A reading of the book 'Screamer the Swift' is on YouTube and a worksheet (Screamer the Swift Q&A) plus 29 questions are linked to the story.

Huntly Swifts, Aberdeenshire (Cally Smith): a piece in the local paper, mention on BBC Radio Scotland Out of Doors this weekend plus Cally’s swift artwork at reduced prices (proceeds to her swift group) are on the Huntly swift group facebook page for purchase & via ;
Plus a Swift window display in a village where we propose putting boxes in the church. Also a few swift videos and a ‘commentary’ on the Scottish WL Trust website.

Herts & Middx WL Trust held a webinar on swifts (65 attended) and will be tweeting about swifts/SAW next week.

Totley Group (Sheffield) Sally Goldsmith (and her 9 year old niece Bronwyn) will be interviewed by BBC Radio Sheffield on Tuesday about swifts.
Yorkshire Dales National Park: call for sightings of swifts. See

Bradwell Group, Derbyshire, further promotion of swifts in the village and linking with a new wildlife group there.

Hastings & Rother Group: article in Hastings & St Leonard’s Observer, launch of new Jonathan Pomroy logo.

Truro (Thais Martins): Action for Swifts leaflet drop around the town




]]> (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) swift Thu, 02 Jul 2020 15:25:47 GMT
REAL hope for next year now... Sure. 2018 was a good year here for the best birds of all, swifts. (Unfortunately, last year was bleedin' awful).

But this year is even better than even 2018.

By some way to be honest.

I have REAL hope now for next year after this season - we have up to five swifts buzzing the house constantly now, each day - and several alighting on the entrance to my swift space I've created in the attic (see photo below, taken yesterday at around 7pm).

Fingers crossed now for next season  - in the hope that one or more of these screamers and bangers will return next year to nest with us.

Oh... by the way... next year will be the 10th (TENTH!) year I've tried to get the best birds of all, back nesting with us, after moving here from Reading, all that time ago.

Fingers and toes and everything else crossed now...




]]> (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) swift Fri, 26 Jun 2020 12:29:10 GMT
We're up to SEVEN now! Since Ben found our first hornet moth t'other day - and more pertinently, our first hornet moth pupal exuvia a day later - we've been checking the base of the biggest poplar in the garden... and now found SEVEN exuviae!

They're everywhere!

Our hornet moths seem to prefer the exposed roots of our largest black poplar - and clearly are liking this sunny, hot weather.

We've even found two exuviae sticking out of the ground (see photos below) with adult moth long gone though, unfortunately.

Wonderful stuff.

]]> (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) hornet moth Fri, 26 Jun 2020 12:17:23 GMT
Love 'em. Just LOVE 'EM. The image below is a composite of around 35 images taken this afternoon.

We're having our best swift year ever here.

Omnipresent, always screaming and also, this year, like 2018, actually 'alighting' (never been happy with that word, mind) in my self-built swift space in the attic.

Love 'em. Just LOVE 'EM....

Swift Half Composite 2020Swift Half Composite 2020

]]> (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) swift Wed, 24 Jun 2020 17:36:03 GMT
Ben gets better and better. A story about "adminicula"... Yesterday, my eldest boy found a newly-emerged hornet moth pumping up its wings at the base of our back garden's largest black poplar - a wonderful father's day present for me!

He's been bitten by the bug (hur hur) now - and is constantly looking out for more hornet moths.

No adult moth today... but again Ben has produced the goods, by today, almost unbelievably, finding the pupal exuvia of the adult moth he found yesterday.

He asked me to come to see something he'd found this afternoon - claiming it looked like a caterpillar but was probably a stick.

I immediately saw that it was a moth's pupal exuvia, lying on a leaf at the base of the large black poplar tree in our back garden - at a spot no more than 10cm from where I took a few photos of a newly-emerged hornet clearwing moth only yesterday.

This exuviae just HAD to be the one that the hornet moth emerged from. SURELY?

A close up photo would confirm.

So... below is the close up photo - and the eagle-eyed amongst you will notice the rings of backwards-facing chitinous spines, or "adminicula" to give them their proper zoological nomenclature, along the segments of the pupal case.

These "adminicula" are there for a good reason on hornet moths' pupae.

You see, they allow (assist or facilitate) the movement (or slow shuffling) of the pupa from its place of concealment (below the bark of a poplar tree), along the bored tunnel, into the great outside - where the adult can pupate. These adminicula act like rows of wee grappling hooks, to give the wriggling pupa purchase along the walls of the tunnel the caterpillar bored through the poplar tree.

REAL experts would be able to count the number of adminicula on the segments of this pupal exuvia and tell you (and me!) whether the adult that emerged from this particular pupa was a male or a female - as the number is specific and different for males and females. But I'm afraid to say, I'm not an expert on these things - and to be honest, even if I was, I wouldn't bother counting anyway.

Why wouldn't I count the adminicula to determine whether our moth was a male or a female?

Because I KNOW our moth was a female.

Bigger and more boldly-marked than the males, our female displayed these bold colours and thick black stripes and also displayed VERY female behaviour when we were taking photos of her - raising her abdomen into the air and emitting powerful pheromones with which to attract passing males (they only have a very short mating window, do these females).


I couldn't stick around yesterday to see whether a male took the bait so to speak but I expect one did - when I returned later in the day - there were no moths to be found nor any errr.... lipstick-tipped, post-coital cigarette butts, for example.


This is 100% the pupal exuvia of our (female) adult hornet clearwing moth then.

And once again, my eldest boy has amazed me - and made me incredibly proud!

Aw shucks...




]]> (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) clearwing moth exuviae hornet clearwing moth hornet moth pupa pupal exuviae Mon, 22 Jun 2020 19:37:52 GMT
Were you correct? Yesterday I posted that Ben, our eldest boy had found SOMETHING on the largest of our poplar trees in our back garden... but I had no time to blog further on the matter, so asked any reader of this blog to guess what he'd found.

But... did you guess correctly?

I've been searching (in vain) for these wee things for some time now. Turns out in order to see them, I barely needed to leave our kitchen!

I knew that they were almost certainly in the garden, after finding lots of evidence in the exposed roots of our big black poplars (see 2nd photo below) but up until yesterday, I'd only seen a red-belted clearwing moth on our (sadly, late) apple tree about 5 years ago - and not the cousin of the red-belted clearwing we've actually been looking for. (*That said the red-belted clearwing is far FAR rarer than the moth found yesterday - just far less impressive too).

Yesterday. Ben found a ...


Hornet (Clearwing) moth on an exposed root of our biggest black poplar in the garden.

That was my father's day present he proudly told me.

And to be honest.... I couldn't have wished for a better father's day present!

Oh sure, I know they're regarded as pests, these beautiful moths - and sure, I expect that one day, their larval activity in this tree will eventually, probably kill it.

But we have other black poplars (we're deliberately growing quite a few) and I still can't help thinking that this moth species is perhaps the best moth in the UK.

How on earth people consider butterflies to be more beautiful and more interesting than those awful grey or brown moths is completely beyond me.

Have a good week.



(Photo 1 above and 2 below taken with my 15 year old Panasonic FZ50 bridge camera).



(Photos 3,4,5 and 6 below taken with my tiny wee pocket camera (the Panasonic TZ90))


(Photo 7 below taken with my pretty terrible 2018 Samsung J3 phone)


(Photos 8-15 below all taken with my 15 year old Panasonic FZ50 bridge camera).


]]> (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) clearwing moth hornet (clearwing) moth hornet moth Mon, 22 Jun 2020 06:18:42 GMT
My eldest boy REALLY produces the goods this morning! I've not got any time to post about this today, but after starting to teach my eldest boy how to REALLY use his eyes t'other day - well... he's knocked it out of the park this morning!

I got out of my "gym" at lunchtime, to find this note (below) from my wife, on the dining room table...


and a few photos on my WhatsApp account on my phone.

I've covered up a couple of words with a pink brush in photoshop...


For now...


Have a guess.

The answer... with LOTS of photos... very soon.


]]> (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) mythtery Sun, 21 Jun 2020 13:06:10 GMT
Nine photos merged into one.

No words necessary...

]]> (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) swift Sat, 20 Jun 2020 15:15:57 GMT
Two peregrines and about two thousand toadlets. At present, I'm trying to teach my eldest son what real awareness is outside;  and why perhaps it's best NOT to become a "birdwatcher". (I know... there'll be some "birdwatchers" reading this who I will shortly offend. Again).

By that I mean (I always have) birdwatchers (or as they often call themselves, "birders" *cringe cringe*)  tend to look upwards, very often skywards - and miss everything interesting at ankle level or below - worse still... stand on and crush the tiger beetle / bee orchid that they've not seen beneath their feet as they peer at a "lifer" in the sky high above their £3000 spotting scope.

Again, I've been labelled many things in my life, some of which I can't put in print here... but I've always recoiled at being thought of as a "birdwatcher". I'm just not. Never have been. I watch EVERYTHING outside - and that, more often than not, is crawling in nature, rather than flying.

I see and LOOK at things in the sky and on buildings and under logs and in ponds and in the grass and on leaves, close up and at distance. Very different to a (n often-blinkered) birdwatcher.

So yes.... my eldest is taking "awareness lessons" from me right now (God help the poor sod). Where he needs to look. What he needs to listen to. Where he needs to ALSO look. How to really USE his eyes. And his ears.

Will he notice that dead rose chafer wing case in the long grass over to his right?

Will he hear the nuthatch calling in the oak tree behind him?

Will he spot the ripples on the surface of the levelling pond to his left, ripples thrown up not by a carp - but by a grass snake.

Will he smell that nearby badger latrine?

Will he see those swifts, 500 foot above his head?

Will he notice those dark clouds on the horizon, scudding this way?


He's fortunate in some ways that his father is hyper aware. And.... unfortunate in others.


Today's lesson was to watch out for things right under your feet (hundreds and hundreds of toadlets) and also (at the same time!) things in the far, far distance.

Ben took the photos below of the toadlets (I'm teaching him how to use my wee pocket camera too) and I took the photo of the two peregrines.

Same town.

Same hour.

Same day.

Our "patch".






]]> (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) peregrine toadlet Tue, 16 Jun 2020 13:52:58 GMT
"It's not the despair, Laura... I can take the despair. It's the hope I can't stand." Two years ago (almost to the day) I blogged about the best birds of all (of course) finally returning to a NEW "Swift Half"after seven years of trying to attract them into the attic.

Then last year, in a true annus horribilis for swifts, I had to report that we basically had a nil year here.

But today.… HOOOOOOBOYY today - they're BACK! (Photo below taken just before 7am this morning).

For only the second time ever (here) and not since the heatwave summer of 2018, the best birds of all have been lured back into our attic. 

I assume the squadron of three screaming swifts that have been lapping our house in wide loops for a week or three now are young, non-breeding prospectors - and if that is the case... then once again - I can only dream about one or two of them returning next year to FINALLY breed.

I (I trust) will be ready - and so will my cameras!

Cross your fingers and toes please!


]]> (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) swift Mon, 15 Jun 2020 15:17:31 GMT
Toadlet. It was mid February that I posted about this year's annual toad migration - when the 2000 (or so) local adult toads leave their woodland home and cross the one road they need to, in order to get to their traditional breeding pond a mile away from their wood.

Yes. A lot has happened since mid February eh - including several weeks of very warm, very VERY dry weather - so you might have forgotten that last winter was warm and wet (and windy) and as such, the nation's toads migrated back to their breeding ponds en masse, a little earlier (mid February) than is commonplace (early March).

Normally, one might expect to see all the tiny wee toadlets leave the pond in which they were born, in early July - but this year, we can start looking now.

I took a solo, 7 mile walk at 06:30am this morning (for 6 days a week I try to do this sometime in the day - although normally it's with my boys and later in the day) and lo and behold, look what crawled in front of me on the local toad road.

At first I thought it was a wolf spider - not a tiny wee toadlet. (No... it's a common misconception that wolf spiders are the massive spiders that race under your sofa when you turn the sitting room light on in the morning - those are just house spiders - proper wolf spiders on the other hand are actually tiny, penny or halfpenny-sized spiders that seem to sunbathe outside on logs and scurry for cover when you get close).

Anyway, on closer inspection, I ascertained it was of course a tiny wee toadlet and not a wolf spider, and rather like its parents (very possibly), four months ago almost to the day, I scooped it up on my pocket camera case and helped it cross the road in the direction of its adult home - the patch of wood about a mile from the pond it had just left a day or so ago.

Please do look out for your local toadlets. They'll be on the move right now, I'm sure.

They, even more so than their parents (hundreds of times bigger than their progeny at present), have a "herculean (to use the phrase du jour) task" to get to their woodland homes from their birth ponds - so if you can help them across any roads - well... all power to you, I say.

They won't thank you. In fact they'll look particularly angry and grumpy that you've seen fit to assist them. But that's toads all over. Angry-faced. They can't help it. And anyway.... their beautiful gold leaf eyes more than make up for any miserable mouth they have.




Photo below is of one of the adult toads I helped cross the road towards their breeding pond in mid February this year. This toad (I helped nineteen) could perhaps be the ACTUAL PARENT of the tiny wee toadlet I helped cross the same road (but in the opposite direction - i.e. towards its adult woodland home) this morning.

I guess I'll never know.

]]> (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) toadlet Sun, 14 Jun 2020 14:37:25 GMT
The ox-eye family. No words.

Just photos.


]]> (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) ox-eye daisy Thu, 11 Jun 2020 07:29:56 GMT
"Beautiful priestess of the Argive plain".

Mid June.

The best time to see peacock butterfly caterpillars in clumps on nettles - which we did today on our walk around the local countryside. (Short video below shot on my phone this morning and all photos taken by me (of course!) over the past few years).


The peacock butterfly's scientific name of Aglais io literally means "beautiful" (from Gr. 'agloas') and "io" (or priestess daughter of Inachus, river god of Argos).

Turned into a heifer by Zeus, to protect her from Hera's jealousy, after he fell in love with her, she (Io) was watched over by the hundred-eyed, all-seeing Argus Panoptes, until Hermes (sent by Zeus) killed the many-eyed monster.

After Argus was killed, Hera put his hundred eyes into the tail of the peacock (bird) and sent a horsefly (which, incidentally, I also saw my first of this year, today) to torment Io, who wandered all over the known world until settling in modern-day Egypt.

Linnaeus had adopted Petiver's name Oculus pavonis* (eye of the peacock (bird)) for the peacock (butterfly) for obvious reasons (see all my photos of the imago butterfly on this post) and the link between Io, Argus and the peacock may have influenced him.

Anyway - do keep your eyed peeled whilst walking past patches of nettles right now...

* Pavon (Paon now) from Levaillant's "Pavaneur". See plate 388 here.





]]> (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) Aglais io peacock Tue, 09 Jun 2020 13:35:38 GMT
"Puttock augmentation" (part three). Whilst we are stuck in Royal Berkshire at present, it seems only fit to again report on the Royal County's Royal Kites.

On our walk the other afternoon, the three boys (me and my sons) of the house, watched a sileage field be cut and twenty kites (and two buzzards) also therefore make hay whilst the sun shone.

A few photos and a video below.

On August 1st it will be thirty-one years EXACTLY that these birds were reintroduced (5 individuals from Spanish stock) to the Chiltern escarpment a dozen or two miles away from us - and I think we're up to c.5000 pairs now.



]]> (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) buzzard red kite Wed, 03 Jun 2020 15:13:27 GMT
Corvid-19? Just having a quick coffee in the garden  (before the first rain in weeks I hear?) - and a magpie just dropped dead from the sky and fell into our small "hedge honeysuckle" bush by the shed.

Stone cold deid.

Eyes wide open.

Beak agape.

No. I don't know either.


]]> (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) magpie Wed, 03 Jun 2020 08:34:08 GMT
An environmentally-ignorant council. This morning, the council (that's Bracknell Forest Council by the way) mowed and strimmed their way around the business park (or industrial estate - call it what you will) and completely destroyed the bee orchids that we discovered only a couple of days ago.

I found one of the knuckle draggers - complete with strimmer in hand.

To his credit, he at least apologised - but I'm pretty sure he wouldn't recognise a bee orchid if I rammed one up his jacksie.

Such a dreadful shame.



EDIT @ 19:30hrs. 

Walked my two boys around the town this afternoon and we found ONE surviving (new) bee orchid which had been missed by both strimmer and mower a hundred yards or so from the destroyed orchids. (Photo below).

A spot of luck and better than nothing I guess.




]]> (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) bee orchid bracknell forest council Mon, 01 Jun 2020 13:33:59 GMT
More orchids... My eldest joined me on my 5 mile walk around Bracknell today - and after taking some close-up photos of the bee orchids that I blogged about yesterday, (you'll absolutely get why they're called "bee orchids" when you look at my photos below) ...


we also found some very unexpected pyramidal orchids, in the same industrial estate.


Lovely to see and as I've already mentioned - more than a bit of a surprise!

Have a sunny Sunday...


]]> (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) bee orchid orchid pyramidal orchid Sun, 31 May 2020 09:41:17 GMT
3M and the Romans' eyebrows. What do you think of, when you think of 3M?

The 3M Corporation that is. You know... the "Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing" company?


Do you think of post-it notes?


Or (pretty-well ALL) road signs?


Nah.... you'll think of Scotch tape, eh?


Oh.. hang on.  Of course!

Face masks!



Currently, we have the utter, unbridled "joy" of living in the tiny, sleepy hamlet of Bracknell and therefore very close to the UK base of 3M.

As a Bracknell resident for almost a decade now, I used to think of peregrines when I thought of 3M, as two birds (both falcon (female) and tiercel (male)) used to roost each night on a high ledge on the old 3M building in the centre of town - I used to watch them there regularly.

Now that the old 3M building has been pulled down and replaced by a block of flats (which to my eye doesn't look much different, skyline-wise) these birds of prey have taken to roosting on the nearby Fujitsu building on the outskirts of the town. 

3M still have their large UK HQ in Bracknell though, situated on a huge plot of land in the western industrial estate. This is where I'm teaching my eldest to ride his bike on roads and also forms part of my government-sanctioned 5 or 6 or 7 mile walk around the area. I walk as often as I can - you'll see me pushing our 1yo around in his buggy with my 7yo by my side very often, striding around the picturesque industrial estates of Bracknell!


Anyway... until yesterday... I used to think of peregrines when I thought of 3M.

Yesterday on my walk past the 3M "estate", I noticed something interesting.

Now when I think of 3M, I don't think of peregrines. Nor post-it notes. Nor road signs. Not even face masks. 


Now when I think of 3M.... I think of bee orchids.


The bee orchid or Ophrys apifera is a wonderful wee plant that, in common with all its Ophrys cousins, mimics insects or spiders (a bee in this case, obviously) to attract pollinators.

Incidentally, the name of Ophrys literally means "eyebrow" - Pliny the Elder so-called these plants "eyebrow" plants as Roman women would use these plants to darken their eyebrows.

Have a lovely weekend.



]]> (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) bee orchid Sat, 30 May 2020 09:19:37 GMT
Why? OK. OK. I'll put you out of your misery.

The short, 30s video below, shot with my smartphone two days ago, will reveal to you the mystery animal that crossed the road in front of me, on my walk on Tuesday.


Did you guess correctly, then?

You'll also, I hope, understand after watching this video, why I titled this blog post "Why?"

I also called this photo below  "Why..." - a photo that I hoped would make me a million pounds. But sadly that didn't happen in this day and age of photoshop!

(For the record, the photo below, which is printed onto a large canvas, hung on our hall wall at home and always gets a nice comment or two from visitors (corrr... remember them? Visitors?!) is not a photoshopped photo. The hen was my champion egg-layer a few years ago. "Couven" was her name. And the photo was shot just after dawn, on a summer's morning about ten years ago, on Swainstone Road, Reading - about a mile from where my wife and I used to live at the time...




]]> (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) chicken road why Thu, 28 May 2020 11:00:00 GMT
What? A quick question for you this morning - and I'll reveal the answer at noon tomorrow (with a blog post containing a 30s video, that I've already written and scheduled to be automatically-published tomorrow).



On a walk yesterday, something crossed the road directly in front of me.

Something very unexpected.

But what was it?

As described in bold above, I managed to get a short (smartphone-shot) video of the fantastic beast that crossed the road in front of me ... and a screenshot from the start of that video can be seen below (not that this will help you!)


Have a think.

Have a guess.

See if you're right, tomorrow, from noon.



]]> (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) mystery Wed, 27 May 2020 09:15:37 GMT
Beetlemania. Little did my eldest son know, on waking up this morning, that he'd be manhandling two of our biggest UK beetles in the day ahead.

First up... a handful of cockchafers (or May bugs, or Doodlebugs or Billy Witches) in our moth trap.

The more zoologically-minded amongst you will note that there are seven "fingers" to each of the May bug's antennae on Ben's hand - so that makes it a male May bug then of course, because as you'll know - female Billy Witches have six fingers to each antenna.

You'll also note that we found a couple of Doodlebugs canoodling, so to speak.

A "special kiss", as Ben calls it. Hmmm....


Then, later today, I spied another male (big "antlers") stag beetle marching purposefully across our garden. We, as I'm sure you're also aware by now, have a couple of colonies of stag beetles in our gardens (one in our front garden and one in our back) so we are almost used to seeing gurt big stag beetles helicoptering around us every May.

Here are a couple of videos I've taken of some of our stag beetles over the last few years. I know. We're very lucky. 



There we go then. 

Beatlemania. Beetlemania here today, on the scorchio Costa Del Berkshire.

Keep well.

More soon.


]]> (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) Billy Witch Cockchafer Doodlebug May bug stag beetle thunder beetle Wed, 20 May 2020 18:29:00 GMT
Progeny. Probably. Regular visitors to this, the most scintillating of all websites, may know that I am not particularly fond of foxes - for a well-documented reasons.

That said, at present we don't keep hens ( I do miss keeping hens!) so for now, as long as I can keep "my" stag beetles as safe as I can, I will tolerate the presence of these vulpine varmints.

This morning my eldest boy witnessed the local dog fox ooch about by one of the holes it has dug under our "western border" at 06:20am (yes, like his father, he rises at sparrowfart too) and the dog was followed by one of his cubs (probably) ten minutes later.

Both clips can be seen on the short video below.

I have no idea how the next few months let alone the next few years will pan out (if it was solely up to me I'd be on a plane to New Zealand ASAP after this pandemic), so currently I(we) have no immediate plans to restock our chicken run with birds - and therefore, for now, I will continue to tolerate our foxes. For now.

(With all that in mind... even I think the cub looks pretty sweet in the clip below!).

Stay safe.


]]> (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) fox Sun, 17 May 2020 15:27:31 GMT
Everything's gone a bit "purple sandpiper" this Spring? I'd like to briefly take you back to August 1985.

Madonna was at number one in the UK charts with "Into the groove" and whilst taking a "Young Ornithologists Club" (YOC - does that even exist any more?!) holiday at the Aigas Field Centre, Beauly, Highland, I was driven, with about twelve other young teenagers to Nairn, overlooking the Moray Firth, to go look for Bottlenose dolphins.

Dolphins we saw, as well as a pomarine skua if I remember correctly - but it was the young purple sandpiper that flew in off the sea and landed on my boots (I was wearing them at the time) that I remember most from that day.

Purple sandpipers breed in the far north - on Arctic islands, the tundra and some remote Scandinavian coasts. The young basically don't even see humans, before they spread their wings and fly south for the autumn or winter - and as such, rather like other wading birds such as turnstones, seem to be particularly "friendly" or "tame" during their formative encounters with humans.

The purple sandpiper that flew in off the Moray Firth in August 1985 and alighted onto one of my boots on the pebbly shore of Nairn, had probably been born on the shores of Svalbard (or somewhere similar) three months earlier - and I could well have been the first human it had ever seen. Perhaps. 


Over the past few weeks of lockdown, it has struck me that many of our birds (and mammals) have become a little more obvious. A little more approachable. A little "friendlier". A little more "tame". A little more "purple sandpiper".

I saw that Steve Backshall (president of my local wildlife trust these days) who lives locally on the Thames, has noticed a superb breeding year for the river's birds. No wash-creating boats to flood nests and no walkers to disturb young you see.

I've certainly also noticed a LOT more wildlife than I would have expected perhaps to have seen in more "normal times".  Now I walk like a countryman (I've been told) and tread very softly - far more softly than you might expect I can, being a 250lb gorilla - AND I'm hyper-aware, so yeah... I tend to notice more things than most  - but this Spring, so far, with many humans and their vehicles on lockdown - I'm noticing crazy amounts of stuff - a lot of it at far closer quarters than I'd have normally seen it.

I try to take a walk each day still (quite hard with my two boys needing me constantly) - and when I do, I'm bowled over by all the birds (especially) I'm seeing - at very close quarters.

Of course, this is the time of year when all birds are frantically breeding  - and you'll (we'll) see all kinds of young birds close up right now. I had to pull a fledgling house sparrow out of our kitchen sink drain a few days ago (it had flown into our kitchen window and stunned itself - then got trapped) and there do seem to be a lot of fledgling birds 'oochering' about right now  - but this year they all seem to be acting like young, first season, purple sandpipers - they just don't seem to be at all bothered by us humans at present - or far less than years gone by, I'd say.

Well... that's a nice plus for me I guess. In all this gloom. And with that thought in mind, I'll leave you for today with a photo I took on my dawn walk this morning. Of a fledgling robin that again, seemed completely unfazed by me and my (pocket) camera.

Stay well.


Fledgling robin in hawthornFledgling robin in hawthorn





]]> (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) robin Fri, 15 May 2020 09:46:53 GMT
Fight night(s). Maybe like me, you've just watched our wretched Prime Minister deliver his pre-recorded garbage to the nation and are now, also like me, itching for a fight?

In which case, I can give you what you need.


You see... I've been recording the antics of our garden hedgehogs over the past few nights and I think I can conclude that...

a) We certainly have two hedgehogs. Both male. And I think we have three. ALL three male.

b) One of our (bigger) male hedgehogs doesn't seem keen to share its food (we feed them hedgehog food behind one of our water butts) with anyone else.

c) Two (or perhaps three... but I think two) are noisily fighting each night.


This snorting behaviour (see my video below) is common amongst hedgehogs - both in terms of hedgehogs meeting other rival hedgehogs and expressing a physical reaction to let the other hedgehog know it needs to back off (in my video below) and also when a male "courts" a female - although in that case, the male doesn't tend to barge the female across the ground (as in my video clip below where an act of aggression can be seen, rather than anything amorous (even brutally amorous!)).

So... do have a little peep at my short video below. And if you hear these noises in your garden hedges or borders any time soon - you now know what creature is making them.


Oh... and before I go. Talking of creatures. If YOU were one of the creatures that voted for Brexit Boris and his band of Tory brothers (and sisters) in December's election please know this BEFORE you step out of your porch and again clap your gnarled, hypocritical hands next Thursday.

Matt Hancock (yes... the current health secretary) and Demonic Raab (yes, incredibly the foreign secretary) and Priti Vacant Patel (yes, unbelievably, the home secretary) AND the buffoon in chief (yes, ridiculously the Prime Minister) ALL voted AGAINST NHS workers getting a fair (most would say) pay rise in Parliament in 2017 - and then cheered and laughed when the results of that vote were announced in parliament - the result meaning NHS workers got no fair pay rise.

Yup. If you voted for this shower - can I suggest that instead of clapping your hands and banging your pots and pans on Thursday night, you do the right thing instead - just pop your head out of the window, hang it in REAL SHAME - and say "sorry" - then solemnly promise not to vote Tory ever (EVER) again.

(Uh huh. I'm still itching for a fight).

Good night.





]]> (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) hedgehog Sun, 10 May 2020 20:01:01 GMT
Eight eyes make me worry less about my two. Since turning forty-five, I've had to wear reading glasses as well... basically... I just can't read any small text on books or on product labels any more. It's a bit of a drag to be honest, especially for someone who has banged on and on about "using your eyes" on this website in particular.

That said, my two ageing eyes can't be in too bad shape still - I noticed a tiny wee jumping spider on our porch this afternoon in the sun. Can't have been more than 5mm long the wee thing - but notice it I did... INCLUDING the colour of its even-tinier pedipalps -and they (its pedipalps) can't have been more than 1mm long.

Yup - still got it! (Eyes-wise).

Anyway - the lovely wee jumping spider this afternoon that I spied (and then showed Ben, our eldest) was a "Sun jumper", a Heliophanus ("sun-loving") jumping spider.

If someone put a gun to my head and said name the actual species, I'd plump for Heliophanus flavipes ("yellow footed") rather than Heliophanus cupreus ("coppery") but it was certainly one of those species and a female to boot.

Anyway - a lovely, yellow-pedipalped sun jumper - and a quick, impromptu lesson into tiny jumpers for my eldest boy - who was made to stand guard and watch the spider whilst his Daddy fetched his old camera! (My actual photo below).

Hope you're all OK in this lockdown.

I'm better now that today I spotted my first swallows and swifts of the year from the back garden...

More soon perhaps.


"Yellow-footed" jumping spider"Yellow-footed" jumping spider


]]> (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) first swift of the year Heliophanus cupreus Heliophanus flavipes jumping spider porch south facing spider sun lover tiny yellow footed Mon, 04 May 2020 18:04:20 GMT
If you can... *do* try... Cruddy, innit.

This "lockdown" I mean.

Oh sure, I understand that there are many (thousands? Millions?) who are fine with it. For these people, the "lockdown" has given them time to start baking their own bread, or learn a language, or get some jobs done around the house, or to take up a new hobby such as painting.

But those are the INCREDIBLY fortunate ones. Often with garden. Probably without small children to watch over 24/7. And with a little money behind them (mortgage paid off?), and indeed a little money in front of them perhaps, too.

For many millions of others though, life is FAR harder than that right now, FAR less comfortable and far, FAR less certain.

It struck me the other day as I was watching another 3 hours of awful 24hr news from around the UK and around the globe that unless I was very careful, I'd not, this year, take the time to notice the stuff around me. I'd be too busy looking after my 1yo all day long, suddenly. Or home schooling my 7yo. Or watching the news all the time. I'd not take the time to notice the bluebells. I'd not take the time to notice the tawny mining bees excavate their wee volcanoes at the back of the garden. I'd not take the time to notice the swallows arriving. And the bee-flies probing the forget-me-nots in the garden. Nor the appearance of the oak leaves.

I'd hate to get to the end of the summer, having drowned in 24hr news coverage and not even tried to take the time to notice all the wonderful stuff around me, in the garden if nowhere else, which I so enjoy each spring and summer.


With that in mind, I altered my daily walk (and cycle ride today) to take in three of my local bluebell woods, this week.

I normally take the entire family to a bluebell wood at the end of April, each year, as you'll perhaps remember. I call it the annual pilgrimage.

But this year, as these woods are each about three miles away from the house, in varying directions - and our seven year old would struggle to walk (or cycle) that far let alone our one year old (who can't cycle yet and can only just about toddle), then this year the annual pilgrimage is a solo odyssey, unfortunately.

They're not too bad this year either, the bluebells. The photos I took below (in three different local woods) were taken for my family's benefit as well as mine.

And of course, if you don't have my good fortune of living near several bluebell woods during this lockdown, then these are for you too.

Stay safe, grapple fans.



]]> (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) bluebells Sun, 19 Apr 2020 15:43:22 GMT
Shouting at shrews.... (and spiders). I'm writing this post after finding this (below) on my government-sanctioned daily walk today.



Many, many moons ago, I used to be a paperboy (do paperboys even exist any more?) and as such I was often cycling around the roads of High Wycombe around dawn, delivering newspapers. From about 1982-1986, if you really want to know.

And... being hyper-aware, I was often noticing and cycling around dead shrews on pavements.

Not so much rodents like mice. Or rats. 


Always shrews.

(Shrews aren't rodents by the way - in case you didn't know).

And not bloody corpses. Just nice whole, plump shrews.


I was led to believe back then that it was always shrews (rather than mice or rats for example)  that you'd see lying dead on pavements as shrews liked their environment to be very, very quiet indeed... and if they just had to cross a road to get from one hedge to another, or from one patch of woodland to another - and a loud motor vehicle roared down that road as they *ahem* waited to cross the road on the pavement, they'd simply drop dead of a heart attack. The noise would be too much for them. It would SHOCK them to death.

Explained why these dead (pavement) shrews seemed otherwise uninjured, you see. No missing limbs or head. No chewed body. No blood or entrails visible. Just a perfect-looking shrew, on its back, with its feet in the air. A heart attack then. OBVIOUSLY.


Fast forward a few years to the late 1980s and I was to be found carrying out my own shrew survey in a wood near Hughenden, High Wycombe.

OK then. Millfield wood, if you really want to know.

My shrew survey consisted of me taking my mother's nail scissors (nope - she didn't ever find out) up to the wood where I would use them to trim the fur of shrews I'd caught in the leaf litter of the wood. I'd trim the fur in different spots for each shrew I caught and therefore know if I caught them again, not to count them again in my population data.

I got quite good at catching shrews during that.... what...? Month. In the summer of 1987. Although to be honest, it isn't that hard, if you have hearing like me. Shrews are noisy little buggers at the best of times. And as long as you didn't SHOUT at them (see above) then it was a relatively straightforward operation.

Find a suitable patch of leaf litter. Stay still. Wait for a shrew to come wandering along under the litter - you'd see the litter move and hear their constant chittering. Then jump on them like a big bald fox, making a circle (with you arms) around the leaf litter spot you last saw move. Then start digging.

I must have caught... ooooh….  thirty... shrews in that month. And given them all little haircuts. The poor sods.

The hard part was explaining to the dog walkers who'd wander by on the paths, just what on earth I was doing - leaping into piles of leaf litter with a pair of nail scissors held between my teeth - in a wood in the middle of nowhere - as a SIXTEEN YEAR OLD!

Although to be honest, I probably had something of a local reputation by then. I spent almost all my free time in the countryside behind our house. I basically lived up there all summer. In a pair of shorts and boots and a bottle or two of water (with a packet of cigarettes too, in my twenties). I clearly remember crouching shirtless, smoking on a country path in the summer once (probably around 1992), deeply tanned after spending the previous three months up there, breaking the neck of a big carrion crow that I'd found with shotgun damage to both of its wings. Which would have been fine - if I'd done it BEFORE the very middle class family (mummy and daddy and two be-alice-banded girls, came round the corner with their pic-a-nic basket and saw me. This hulk of a man, half naked, crouched over a crow, snapping its neck and then letting it go to flap around for a bit as all the nervous impulses went berserk for a while, post-mortem. I don't think I've ever seen anyone's eyes open as wide as that family's - they LITERALLY ran away from me before I could explain!

Anyway.... where was I?

Oh yeah.


Yes... I've had a little experience with shrews. Although I've now, somewhat reluctantly come to the conclusion that it probably isn't traffic noise that makes these pavement shrews keel over in shock and have a fatal heart attack.

It's unfortunately more to do with the fact that shrews, a bit like their moley cousins, taste bleeding awful. They're killed by a fox or a cat and dropped shortly afterwards, as their foul taste starts to become apparent to the animal that's killed them. It just so happens that you find them on pavements -as that's where YOU tend to walk, isn't it? They are actually dropped all over the gaff - the world is literally FILLED with dead shrews, dropped in disgust by the foxes and cats that thought that long-nosed mouse would fill the gap nicely between meals, only to discover that it tasted so BAD! But you won't come across those shrews dropped off woodland paths or in long grass. You wouldn't ever see them, would you? But you certainly WOULD see the dead animals on roadsides and pavements. And you might well notice that the little dead mammals on pavements are almost always shrews. Not mice. Shrews.

So, boring though it is... shrews can be found on pavements NOT because the sound of a motor car makes their wee hearts stop but instead... because that's the place you're most likely to walk by and see them, having been dropped by a fox or a cat that suddenly thought that thing in their mouth is starting to taste a bit rank.



That all said.

The next time you see or hear a live shrew, "oochering" around in the leaf litter in front of you (you may need me there to point this out to you?) suddenly stop and shout at it if you like.

Shout anything you want at it.

Shout anything.



And abruptly.

Shout something like "BANG!"


It'll be fine. 

I promise.

Its wee heart can take it.




Finally - a tip for the arachnophobes amongst you.

Shouting at shrews will have very little effect. Probably.

But shouting at spiders will have a very handy effect.

Spied an incy-wincy (or less incy-wincy to be honest, and more GURT BIG RACING) spider on the wall of your bedroom, or perhaps on the carpet - and want to get rid of it oot the window, but every time you get near it, it races under the sofa or behind the wardrobe?


SHOUT something LOUD and ABRUPT.

Shout something like:


(You can even add a German accent if you like and  "VER ARE YOUR PAPERS?!" As long as it's loud and staccato).

Spiders instantly freeze when shouted at.

(I don't mean their haemocoel (that's spiders' blood by the way - you're learning more and more on this website aren't you?)  immediately solidifies into ice.... no I mean they instinctively freeze... they stop stock still).

It's all to do with their wee hairy legs you see - very sensitive to vibrations they are - for obvious (insecty) reasons. 


Want to drop a glass over a spider so you can hoy it out of a window?

Shout "HALT!" at it - as you go to get the glass over it.

Like taking candy from a baby.

Try it.

You'll see....



Female fencepost-jumping spiderFemale fencepost-jumping spider










]]> (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) shrew spider Thu, 16 Apr 2020 09:44:53 GMT
A Greek tragedy. 2020 doesn't get any better does it? Awful news from Greece yesterday.

And yes, I know this may seem completely trivial at present, what with CoVid-19 literally killing dozens of thousands of humans around the world.

But this *is* a wildlife blog.

And you will remember … I *do* adore "my" swifts.


]]> (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) house martin swallow swift Sat, 11 Apr 2020 10:38:01 GMT
Watering hole. Oh to be a fox right now.

Or even a hedgehog.

Or better still.... some kind of bird (we have a pair of house sparrows nesting in our camera box this year).

More soon...

Stay safe.


]]> (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) fox hedgehog Sat, 11 Apr 2020 10:25:07 GMT
Reclamation... The geese are reclaiming the deserted local business park...

]]> (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) canada goose Tue, 07 Apr 2020 09:12:42 GMT
When this old world starts a getting me down... …and people are just too much. For me to fa-ace...

I've seen and heard a fox on the garage roofs behind our back garden a few times last month, so thought I'd pop a trail camera up there last night.

The spliced-together video above is what the trail camera picked up. 

For now I assume the lame fox (the first fox in the video) is probably a dog and all the other clips are of the (only) vixen. 

Up on the (garage) roof.



]]> (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) fox Thu, 02 Apr 2020 15:03:14 GMT
Hedgehogs in our side passage. Just a quick post tonight with a spliced-together video of the hedgehogs in our side passage last night.

Stay safe.


]]> (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) hedgehog Tue, 31 Mar 2020 18:11:03 GMT
A message to joggers. I'm going to try and be as polite as I can with this wee post, but if I stray into screaming obscenities, then please forgive me.


For the love of God, will you effing joggers out there begin to appreciate that this current time is NOT the best time to continue to puff and pant and sweat and spit your way down your traditional jogging routes, that is to say narrow kerreisting pavements.

I understand (HOO BOY do I understand) that you need to take your daily exercise. Whilst we are allowed (for how long I wonder) I try to get a walk in each day too. But what I will never understand is that YOU feel it's OK to run towards people down a narrow pavement - and worse, get salty when those people you run towards stop and scream "WTAF!" at you.

Some advice -as you clearly need it, you effing selfish, arrogant imbeciles.

1 - Just don't jog.  I dunno... buy a bleeding skipping rope or something.

2 - If you absolutely HAVE to jog, choose an open area or a WIDE path or pavement.

3 - If you can't even do that, then YOU MUST prepare to get HYPER AWARE and then zig-zag across roads YOURSELF, to avoid people who SHOULD NOT be expected to get out of your way.

4 - If you can't do that then return to point 1.


It is ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS the faster person's (or vehicle's) responsibility to ensure the safety of the slower road/pavement/space users and move themselves to get around those slower people or vehicles safely.

Cars should not expect cyclists to get out of their way.

Cyclists should not expect joggers to get out of their way.

Joggers should not expect pedestrians to get out of their way.

This really is SIMPLE (despite Naga Munchetty's inane witterings on BBC Breakfast the other day and despite also the indignant protestations of Andrew castle on LBC too).


Now OK. Sure. This may affect me harder than many as I'm clinically hyper-aware or if you like, hyper-sensitive.

No, by that I don't mean that if you tell me I have big ears, I'll immediately burst into tears -  but what it does mean is that I will be sitting in the garden talking to someone and I will have already noticed the rose chafer flying around the trees 50 yards away to the south, over your shoulder - and the KLM aeroplane flying into the wind, high in the northern sky ... and the fact that in thirty seconds a sparrowhawk will fly overhead as I've heard the starlings' alarm calls in the western valley below not to mention I've heard a squirrel getting angry at I presume a cat or a dog or a fox from a poplar tree 100 yards to the east that I can't even see as there's a house in the way.

I see stuff and hear stuff and FEEL stuff before you even know its there. You may never know its there. But I see and hear it ALL.

I don't go outside to have a spot of "me time" and mull over a few things - I spend my time outside being completely mindful. Aware of everything around me and IN the moment. It's quite exhausting sometimes - as two TV producers will attest to as they interviewed me in my garden a few years ago and I demonstrated to them ALL of the above (rose chafer, sparrowhawk, KLM plane, squirrel, cat) in five minutes, WHILST chatting to them about their TV programme.

So.... yes... I WILL spot people on the roads waaaay before they spot me - so in some cases I get exasperated with these people before I even give them a chance to get out of my way - I'm already crossing the road to get out of their way!

That all said, even our local postwoman (who really is a nice woman generally) takes a daily run down the pavements at present - and as she does so she unthinkingly scatters people into the road and hedges - be those people be healthy men like me or old women or even people like my wife and my two small children. It would be fair to say that I don't think I'll be as polite to her as I used to be when all this is over.


Finally, whilst I'm on one - a note to 99% of the British public who (incredibly) believe that on a road with no pavements, you should walk down the side of the road on which you would be driving if you were in a car - i.e. with the traffic, rather than towards the oncoming traffic.

Jesus did indeed PIGGING WEEP. 

That is the EXACT opposite of what you should do. And what you should do (walk on the side facing oncoming traffic rather than facing away from it) makes PERFECT sense, if you, for one millisecond, engage your pea-sized brains to think about it.



To summarise then.



(Stay safe grapple fans, and as far as possible... calm).



]]> (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) covid 19 hedgehog joggers Sun, 29 Mar 2020 10:42:08 GMT
Two hedgehogs again A quick post tonight - we're all a bit frazzled after all, aren't we?

Regular readers of this blog might remember we had two hedgehogs in the garden(s) last year - a large one, which we KNOW was run over and killed late in the season and a wee one, which wasn't.

Well... as you know, the wee one has woken from its slumber again and is taking food from my hedgehog feeder - but now it has been joined by a very fast bigger hedgehog - video below shot last night on the Browning trail cam (PLEASE buy Browning trail cams - they're SO much better than the garbage pumped out by Bushnell!).

So... we have two hedgehogs again in the garden(s). Which I'm very happy about - as we have FAR fewer frogs this year than any other year since I dug the pond - more on that soon.

Stay safe all.



]]> (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) hedgehog Wed, 25 Mar 2020 17:58:51 GMT
Strangely... joyless. This should be the BEST time of year. (No... that really isn't Christmas - that's the worst time).

The leaves are unfurling. 

Poplar leaves in our garden.Poplar leaves in our garden.

The ground is drying.

The ladybirds and bee-flies are sunning themselves.

The celandines are filling ditches.


The hedgehogs are waking from slumber.

The mornings (and evenings!) are getting lighter.

The days are now finally longer than the nights.

Bluebells will be with us in a fortnight or so.

And swallows too.

The warmth of the sun almost literally warms your heart at this time of year.


But 2020... well... seems quite joyless right now.

We're lucky we have a big garden I suppose - a garden where our boys can play and see and touch all kinds of amazing stuff (from frogspawn to hedgehog poo - I know, I know... we're weird - deal with it).

Stay safe grapple fans.



]]> (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) 2020 spring Sun, 22 Mar 2020 07:03:03 GMT
Look who's back...

Going for a wee bowl of cat food that I've hidden behind one of our water butts, in a place where no cats (or foxes) can get to it. Last night.

I think this is our single surviving hedgehog from last year (the small one - the large one was sadly run over, remember?).

Welcome back!

]]> (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) hedgehog Tue, 17 Mar 2020 15:47:56 GMT
Not as planned. Mid March then, and as normal this is EXACTLY the time of year that "our" frogs start spawning in the garden.

Only THIS year at present, we have no spawn in the pond as yet. And no biblical plague of frogs yet either, it seems...

Instead, our first lump of spawn was laid in our.... birdbath (well... more of a drinking tray for the local hedgehogs).

Not really what I'd planned!

I presume that with the weather significantly picking up this week (that's what the forecast says, Anyhoo) that "our" frogs will start to spawn en.masse from this week - although to REALLY get their juices flowing, they'd need a full moon - and they'll not get that for three weeks or so.

Watch this space...

]]> (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) Sat, 14 Mar 2020 13:30:02 GMT
Accidental weasels. How many weasels have you chanced upon?




Very possibly none, I expect.

I've seen four or five stoats now and attracted (called) a few weasels (much harder to see I think) in my time, after hearing them in long grass - but I've only accidentally chanced upon two weasels. Ever. In my life.

The first "accidental weasel" I chanced upon was in the year 2000.

I worked at a craft bakery in Hazlemere (Bucks) and lived in Beaconsfield at the time.

At the start of a summer's evening in that year, as I cycled through rural(ish) Penn to start work at around 7pm that evening, a weasel (definitely a weasel not a stoat) raced across the single track road in front of my bike.

It left a hedge and crossed the road westward into someone's drive.

By the time I reached the drive (it was a hill I was cycling up!) it had gone. But it was lovely to see and I remember it like it was yesterday.

But it wasn't yesterday.

It was, in fact, twenty years ago, this year!


Today, twenty years later, I chanced upon my most recent and only my second ever "accidental weasel".

I was nearing the end of my daily five-mile-walk (to keep my back muscles in check after slipping two lumbar discs a few years ago) in Binfield, Berkshire - and again it (a weasel again, definitely not a stoat) raced across the busy (this time) road maybe 70 yards in front of me into someone's front garden hedge.


Two "accidental weasels".

Twenty years.

Some people reading this may know me quite well and know very well that I tend to see (or notice I suppose) EVERYTHING.

So if I've only seen two accidental weasels in twenty years... well... I guess that tells it's own story.

These delightful wee animals are awfully hard to see.


How about you then?

How many accidental weasels have you seen?




]]> (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) weasel Mon, 09 Mar 2020 17:58:28 GMT
Just two weeks to go. Waiiittttt.... The weathermen and women on TV will tell you that Spring sprung on 1st March - but that is weatherman (meteorological) Spring - and really means nothing - only March, April May is easier to remember than a varying day in the 2nd or 3rd week of March each year, to a varying day in the second or third week of June each year. But that IS what true (astronomical) Spring actually means.

So... Spring this year starts in two weeks. 

Hold on now. We're nearly there...

(Photos taken a few days ago)

]]> (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) Spring Fri, 06 Mar 2020 11:30:00 GMT
Neither "accreditation" nor "exposure" pays our bills. (Please PAY photographers). I (honestly) hope this post doesn't upset the chap who was yesterday, the most recent person (in a long line over the last decade or so) to ask me for permission to use my images for a scientific publication (or for other purposes), without paying for the use. 

At least this chap (the latest chap) asked me... (some don't) and he seems to be a nice chap.  

So I've blacked out his name and the name of the organisation he works* for in the screenshots below. (*Yes.. he is an employee of his organisation, not a volunteer).


This chap's email to me yesterday. (Again I hope he isn't upset by this... this is why I've blacked out his name and organisation).


And my rather short (I'm sorry to say now) reply, today:




As photographers, we're all more than a little peeved with this stubborn notion that whilst other artistic work commands a price (sometime a heavy price) - photographers will give away our work for free. For "full accreditation" or "exposure" etc.

My mortgage provider doesn't accept "accreditation" as a payment. Nor "exposure". 

Not only that, but my (and others') photographers take TIME. And SKILL. And.... wait for it... MONEY.

Now I don't intend to lie to you and tell you that I own a £1000 camera and a series of £500 lenses.

I don't.

But I do own two DSLRs (about 7 years old, both of them - and a couple of lenses (older than that!) and some expensive batteries and chargers and a tripod or two and a remote trigger - and a laptop and a cataloguing and basic editing bit of software (Lightroom Classic) and a monitor and two external hard drives on which to store and backup my images. Not to mention a trail camera and a few articles of clothing that make me blend into the countryside. And a pair of binoculars and a sturdy car which needs to be insured and taxed and MOT'd and fuelled  before I can take it into the countryside to spots where I take my images.

Then I spend HOURS and HOURS and DAYS and WEEKS and MONTHS in the field. Always have done.

All this costs real money.

None of it comes free.

If I painted an oil painting of what I photograph - you'd pay dearly for it. 

If I wrote a lyrical piece on the wildlife I photograph - ditto.

If I photographed your wedding - would you ask me to consider "exposure" or "accreditation" as your payment?


So why do you continue to believe that I will give my other photographic images away for free?


These images, again, take time and money to produce.


The go-to-card for people asking for free-use of my images is often that they are charities or third-sector organisations.

I'm afraid now that doesn't matter to me.

I've had a recent run-in with someone giving away my "swift photos" for free over the last few years, without even asking me. 

This is unacceptable I'm afraid.

He should have known better.

He does now.


I'm now sick and tired of being asked to give away my work for free - and have changed my "about" page to reflect that (did so several months ago in fact).

I just wish all photographers would follow suit.

Our work costs money to make - like everyone else's work.

Please, please now extend us the courtesy of acknowledging that and offering us real money for their use.






]]> (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) photography use Tue, 25 Feb 2020 15:36:45 GMT
Wet wind worry A quick post today to see despite the great news of our local barn owls pairing up properly in the last week and now very much roosting together - I remain really worried about them at present.

We seem to be living in a stuck Jetstream right now. Produced and strengthened, I hear, by the cold air mass over North America (whether that is directly attributable to anthropogenically-accelerated climate change would be another discussion) and this has resulted in a very strong Jetstream sat right over us, for weeks.

High winds (20MPH plus and gusting regularly at over 40MPH), driving rain and floods seem now, after the last month or so, to be an everyday occurrence.

And this is a REAL problem for our barn owls.


Firstly, our British Barn owls are pretty-well the most northerly examples of their species (Tyto alba alba) in the world. In fact... I think I was taken to see the most northerly breeding barn owl pair in the world at the tip of north Scotland, when I was about 16. They're right on the edge of their range here.

And there's a reason for that.

They're basically pretty cr@p in the rain. And cr@p in the wind too. Which is all they get for days (or weeks, currently) at a time here in the UK!



Barn owls are especially reliant on their superb hearing to hunt. They need to hear their vole prey rustle in the tussocky meadows they hunt over. Which is fine, most of the time. Unless it's blowing a hoolie - in which case, ALL the tussocks are rustling and they can hear bugger all voles over all that racket.



Barn owls fly silently. Like small, round, floaty ghosts. They manage this because of their exceptionally-soft feathers, which are not very oily and therefore not very waterproof. These feathers don't tend to work well in the rain. So barn owls really don't hunt well in the rain. They'd rather not even get wet to be honest... let alone wet for any period of time, whilst hunting in a mon-pigging-soon.


Again, at present it feels like we have been living in a wet wind tunnel for the past few weeks - so much so in fact that I am constantly remarking to my eldest son (who watches the local barn owls with me) that I'm amazed they're still alive. They must be STARVING every other night at least, right now - and I'm convinced that if this bleeding awful* weather doesn't change soon, they'll (our local pair) give up any attempt at breeding this year before they've even started - many birds do this (including my favourites, swifts) - what's the point of risking everything to bring up a family if you can't even find enough food for yourself.


I'm even, right now, tentatively considering breaking the golden rule with wildlife watching - that is to get involved. I'm starting to consider buying a bag of frozen weaner rats from a pet food store - with a view to defrosting one or two and wedging them on top of one of our owls' favourite posts during windy nights.

There are inherent risks with that sort of idea though - as there are with any "feeding wildlife" ideas. 

Firstly you are getting involved, unnaturally - you are unnaturally managing a natural system. You are therefore OBLIGED to not have that wildlife reliant on your actions. Nor should you effectively lure your wildlife out to your unnatural food and therefore put them at risk.

With regards to feeding wild barn owls defrosted weaner rats, you should realise that barn owls probably won't take unnatural, dead, white, cold baby rats at first anyway - unless they discover by accident that they're edible.

They need to be defrosted safely. Overnight, in a fridge. Not at room temperature or hotter or worse still in a microwave. Then they should be put on the owls' favourite perch within 24 hours.

Finally you should never get the owls used to the idea that they could come out in the driving rain to pick up your food from the perch. This could waterlog their feathers and kill them.

A lot to think about eh?

But right now... with this awful* weather seeming to be never-bleeding-ending - I am considering it...




*awful weather:    Someone (Christ knows who) once said "There's no such thing as bad weather. Just a bad choice of clothes".

What bull.


]]> (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) barn owl weather Mon, 24 Feb 2020 11:52:22 GMT
Our barn owls have paired up! Yes. This morning, on my walk, I watched sparrows take straw up into a local roof.

And today I also saw a magpie taking mud from our saturated garden and packing her nest with it... in our big fir tree.

But that's NOTHING compared to what Ben and I saw yesterday.


Regular readers of this blog might know that my eldest boy (Ben) and I have been watching the local barn owls (a mile or two SW of Binfield village) for a couple of months now.

We've noted a male and a female owl. Interact with each other a few times, over a favourite stubble field.

But not roost together.

Well... not until yesterday.

Yesterday, I drove us up to their patch and we saw both the female AND now the male too in the (female's original) roost for the first time this year.

They were both there this evening too - with the male leaving the joint (now) roost a good half hour earlier than the female.

The clip below (on YouTube) is audio only  - I've blacked out the visuals to protect the exact location of this schedule 1 bird.

I hope you enjoy it anyway - you'll hear my boy almost keel over with excitement and joy at seeing BOTH his favourite birds "team up" in the female's roost.

Now. Whilst it really is superb news that these owls have paired up - all barn owls are going through HELL at present what with all this wind and rain.

They are having HUGE trouble hunting, reliant on dry weather as they are, to keep airborne and still(ish) weather to hear their prey.

I desperately hope they catch some voles tonight... because if these inclement conditions continue, as I rather depressingly explained to Ben in the car tonight - these owls will abandon any attempt at breeding this year, before they even start. (No point risking everything in a breeding attempt if you can barely catch enough food to survive yourselves). 

Or... as the old joke goes: "It's too wet to woo, for owls..."

Cross your fingers, dear readers.

And your toes.

More soon.




]]> (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) barn owl Tue, 18 Feb 2020 20:22:28 GMT
...The Menace. Dennis (really? Dennis?) has been (is being) pretty wild eh?

Even our local birds are being blown out of their trees...

Yes, OK. That's a plastic eagle owl … or at least the body of one - I couldn't see the head.

No... that grey blob behind the plastic owl body isn't its head, but one of a dozen or so dog poo bags chucked into the brambles by all you oh-so-considerate dog owners who nonsensically bleat that it's only the minority who behave like that.

The owl was nailed/tied to a big branch on an old oak tree outside someone's house just up the road. For some reason, they had nailed 2 owls to this tree (there's one left - see the photo below) but it seems Storm Dennis (really? Dennis?) cruelly ripped this avian couple apart last night.

It started raining here on Friday night and doesn't seem intent on stopping any time soon. To that extent, our flat roof (covering our side passage and two "outbuildings") has developed another leak this weekend (to go with the one that I knew about) - and the flashing around our chimney has developed another (to go with the leak that I identified last week after storm Ciara).

None of these are really serious leaks. I've put a bucket or two down in the attic (well... a mop bucket and a litter tray) and that seems to be doing the trick until we can get a roofer in.  But we will eventually (this summer probably) have to look to get these little niggles looked at.

And in the garden - well the fox (and hedgehog) tunnel under our tallest fence has been completely flooded. The local foxes have dug two big tunnels under our fences - big enough for a relatively big dog (I'd say... not just a big fox) to squeeze through, if it felt it had to. But looking at the photo below, nothing's gonnae use that tunnel for a while.

Finally, I, of course, went down to our local toad crossing last night (and this morning on my 5 mile walk - to photograph the road so you lucky, luck readers get an idea of what our "toad crossing" road looks like (below)) and helped nineteen of the little blighters cross the road.

Plenty more were squashed last night though - including one or two by the only car that went down that road in the forty minutes or so that I was there. At speed. Not even noticing the toads all over their road. *sighhhhh*.

I think I'm going to contact the local biodiversity officer of the council and suggest (strongly) that they need to put a toad sign up. 

Right, that shallot.

I'll leave you with photos of three of the nineteen toads I helped on their way last night...

Keep dry eh?



]]> (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) toad Sun, 16 Feb 2020 12:59:56 GMT
It's going to be a WILD night. Literally. (A post NOT for the squeamish)...  

Toad crossingToad crossing




EDIT: 15th Feb at 0930hrs. Please note - the original post below was written by me YESTERDAY (14th Feb) at around 1900hrs and put down as scheduled for automatic (delayed) publication at 0800hrs this morning.

I wrote it in such a way yesterday, so it would *read* that I wrote it this morning - I simply scheduled it for publication this morning as I didn't want to post twice in one day and I knew I wouldn't be able to get down to our local toad crossing last night.

Well... I did walk along our toad crossing this morning - after the predicted (below) few toads used their toad crossing last night - and what I saw there was very sad.

I'll continue this edit after my original post below...




Quick one today, grapple fans.

I've already predicted (and seen) the start of the annual toad migration this year (last weekend) and while last night would have seen a few toads making their traditional annual journey from wood to breeding pond, as it was damp and about 10C here.... (I was busy so didn't get out to check our local crossing) - TONIGHT will be HUGE for the toads at my and your local crossings.

We're expecting Storm Dennis to bring lots of rain of course AND very high overnight temperatures for February (something like 13C here tonight I hear).

Now, wind aside, (toads aren't really affected by wind - stop sniggering at the back) those conditions are PERFICK MA, PERFICK for toads to get their crawl on, en masse.

Tonight's the start of toad season proper. Mark my words.

Get down to your local toad crossing after dark. But do stay safe too, out there.

It's going to be a wild night. Literally.




Continued edit. 15th Feb at 0930hrs.

Yes, I did do my 5 mile walk around the area early this morning, taking in the toad crossing as I walked.

And I'm afraid to say... this (below) is what I found.

Now... I'm pretty sure that was a relatively quiet night at this particular toad crossing. Yes… I predicted a few toads would be moving last night (and so they did - perhaps more than a few, as it happens) but TONIGHT WILL be the big one.

Please, please, if you can. Find out where your local toad crossing is (use my hyperlinks above), get down there tonight (stay safe mind) and help these beautiful creatures avoid Pirelli and Goodyear for another year.




]]> (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) migration rule da nation toad toad crossing with version Sat, 15 Feb 2020 08:00:00 GMT
"Station squabble". My intrigue. You may have recently noticed that  Sam Rowley's "Station Squabble" below won the "Peoples' vote" in this year's Wildlife Photographer of the year competition. Not the overall prize, the peoples' vote (perhaps even more important then!).

And you might have noticed that yet again, *yawwwwn*, the keyboard warriors have started pouring scorn on this wonderful photo above.


Want my thoughts?


Oh well... you're gonnae get them anyway (as you must be here for a reason?)


I think it's a superb image.

For many reasons - not least of all it's an image that we can all relate to. (Well... we Brits anyway).

I also love it because unlike many other award-winning wildlife photographs, the subject of this particular award-winning photograph, (i.e. the wildlife, in this case the two mice) only fills a tiny, tiny proportion of the whole frame. At a guess... 0.66% (1/150th)? I LOVE that.

I also like it as it really intrigues me.

When I lived and worked in London (ohhhh over a decade now) not that I was taking any photographs at the time (I didn't have a camera) but I was certainly aware that one wasn't allowed to take photos on or in London Underground land.

I guess that's changed now that everyone has a camera on their phone - it would be a bit weird banning photography on the tube now - although I wouldn't be surprised if it still wasn't allowed.

So how did Sam take this shot?

It was with a bona fide camera, a pretty standard Nikon (not a £5000 D5 or anything though),. and a pretty standard lens (again... not a £10,000 500mm f4 prime lens or anything) - but obviously a "proper" DSLR around Sam's neck - as he went into the Tube.

Also did he really lie on his belly on the platform for hours and hours, waiting for the perfect shot?

Well... if he did, he has waaay bigger "cojones" than me - I don't think I'd lie down for more than five seconds on a central London tube platform (as that's where he did shoot this - although he hasn't publicised exactly which station).

But that's my point really.

He may well have laid down on the central London tube station platform for hours and hours - so I can only assume he got permission for this. From TFL (Transport for London). And are we to assume therefore that this shot was taken in the middle of the night, when either no trains were running or very, very few passengers were about?

Finally - on the subject of passengers - WHO IS THAT in the background (the mice are almost pointing to this blurred person, sitting on a bench at the far end of the platform - a person wearing what looks like blue jeans and a green top)?

If it is a passenger waiting for a train - then I'd be amazed if they were OK with the photo being taken of them (they wouldn't know that they were out of focus in the shot).


is it....

the photographer himself?

With a remote shutter switch in his hand -triggered just at the right moment when the two mice wander across his Nikon's field of view 40 yards or so away down the platform?

Well... I don't really suppose it is Sam, the photographer, to be honest (as he'd have said it was if it was him... and of top of that it appears to be a woman doesn't it?) - but my intrigue is still boiling over with this wonderful image.


I love it.

But purely from a technical and logistical (and legal!) point of view - I'd just LOVE to know how he got this shot.

Wonderful stuff Mr. Rowley.

A very, very well deserved award!



Oh and by the way... Sam Rowley, just like yours truly, graduated from Bristol University's biology department, although Sam looks like he graduated about twenty years after me!

Hmmm.... I think, as a fellow Bris biology (well... zoology for me... (same department though)) graduate, I might just give him a bell and ask him for his "Station squabble" shot secrets....



EDIT. 15th Feb at around 0930am.

Well well well.... looks like Sam DID lie on his belly on a central London tube station for hour upon hour. Whilst the station was open - and full of drunk punters! Big, big cojones indeed! Although when I was his age, (early mid 20s ish) I'd have probably done similar!

What inspirational stuff eh?!






]]> (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) bristol unveristy peoples choice station squabble wildlife photographer of the year Fri, 14 Feb 2020 15:51:28 GMT
Super moon toads. Just the quickest of posts this evening to say Ben and I are having GREAT success following our barn owls recently - the photo below is of Ben looking at last night's "Snow supermoon" on another of our (successful) owl hunts.


Also - please be on the lookout NOW for toads at their traditional toad crossings.

As I've blogged here once or twice (or thrice!) before, all the toads need in February or March (generally) is a little wet in the air and night-time temperatures to be over saaaaay 9C - and they're on the move.
Storm Ciara (or whatever) today brought those exact conditions here, so Ben and I went on our first toad patrol of the season at our nearest toad crossing and we managed to spot our first toad of the year and help him across the road.

Toad crossing (2)Toad crossing (2)

Keep 'em peeled grapple fans...

More soon.


]]> (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) barn owl supermoon toad Sun, 09 Feb 2020 19:40:48 GMT
Giving thanks and thanks for nothing. Disclaimer: The two (massively-cropped) photos in this post were taken by me this morning with my tiny wee pocket camera. I know they're awful. Barn owls are schedule 1 birds and it is an offence in the eyes of the law (1981 wildlife and countryside act) to deliberately OR recklessly disturb these birds at or near their roosts or nests. My boy and I watch these birds from a large distance and generally don't even take photos (there's no point from the distance we put between the owls and us).


It struck me this morning, as my eldest boy and I watched "our" two local barn owls quarter over a stubble field near Wokingham, SW of Binfield village in Berkshire, just before sunrise, that what I was experiencing was, I suppose, one of the greatest pleasures I could hope to experience in my life and I should be thankful for that.

I stood beside my boy and watched the delight creep over his face as he gaped through my new binoculars at these beautiful white owls, in the gathering dawn, with not a soul around, other than his dad. He was privileged to see these owls this morning, I was privileged to be able to show them to him (again) and I am truly thankful for that.

I should say he nearly exploded with joy when we watched the female owl drop onto a big vole just before 07:55am (so about fifteen minutes after sunrise this morning) and then fly back to her roost with it in her beak (terrible photo below).

It also struck me this morning, on the first day in what … nearly fifty years... when we are at least legally out of the EU, rather than actually out, that I should also perhaps be a little sad, watching these beautiful owls with my eldest son, who is only just seven years old, after all. 


Yes. Sad.

We're all agnostic I suppose, but I would also chalk myself up as an atheist - but I see little point debating the subject of whether God exists or not with anyone really. It's futile. You either believe there is bearded, supernatural, all powerful, omnipresent being sat on a cloud in the sky or you don't.

An all-loving supernatural being by the way, kind enough to give some children bone cancer... and loving enough to ensure there are insects in some part of the world which do NOTHING ELSE but burrow into childrens' eyes and blind them.

If you do believe in the above, then you also probably see the merits of ensuring there are spaces in our law-making establishments left open to be filled by leaders of your religion (you know... that religion about the all-loving bone cancer-giving supernatural being I mentioned above) and you may even believe that your all-loving God (yes... the same one that "designed" those eye burrowing insects) gives the human race a good "moral code" to stick by. Hmmmm.

You may even believe that your religion doesn't hold back progress.  OKaaaaay….

Yes... you either believe that (palpable) BS... or you don't. You are, of course, entitled to hold your opinions, whether they're demonstrably ridiculous or not.


Likewise, I'm not going to resurrect the argument (academic or not) surrounding Brexit after this post. To do so would be futile.  You either believed the BS spouted by Farage or you didn't. Personally, in what....almost four years of Brexit... I've not heard ONE intelligent argument which adds any real weight to the notion that leaving the EU is in any way a good idea.

People often vomit up their vapid clichés of "sovereignty" or "freedom" without knowing what either word actually means, when asked to defend their Brexit mentality. 

Actually. Worse still is the argument that "I voted out because I don't like how the Northern powerhouses are treating countries like Greece in the EU". That is nothing more than a coward's reasoning - and it would be fair to say that if you've always thought like that, you wouldn't have been my friend in the school playground -  and nor would you be now.

Rather than walk away, I'd suggest you try to quickly grow a pair - and whilst you're at it, a spine - and then start challenging what you perceive to be bullies.

Bit too late probably for you now though, eh?


No, it strikes me that the vast majority of people who voted "out", also still find the "Carry On" films funny (rather than the embarrassing garbage that they are) and find people like Greta Thunberg intolerable. They'll often invariably be hysterical monarchists, quite content (over the moon in fact) to prostrate themselves in front of those they think have the "special blood" and call those special-blood people (with no smirking) "your majesty" or "your highness". Oh we'll grow up one day and disestablish the church AND ALSO then abolish the monarchy - but not in my lifetime I fear.

Look, I wouldn't go as far to say that in general, the people who voted Brexit are stupid -  although I certainly would firmly apply that label to the handful of Scots I know who voted AGAINST the proposal for Scotland to leave the UK in 2014 (so a vote to stay in the UK) and also voted for the UK to LEAVE the EU in 2016. Wow! If you voted that way, then there's little hope for you I'm afraid. I don't think I could describe blind stupidity any better.

No. The majority of people who voted FOR Brexit probably aren't stupid. Ignorant possibly, but that's fine. I'm ignorant about 99% of everything I'm sure. Ignorance only becomes problematic where it is wilful ignorance.


That all said, what they (you?) did do when you voted OUT - is (stupidly? You're reading this wildlife blog because you enjoy wildlife no?) vote for less environmental protection for everything in the UK.

Including less protection for our beautiful barn owls that my boy(s) and I (and you?) take so much pleasure from watching.

(Think I'm spouting hyperbole? Read this then).

You also voted to give my boys less money in their pockets, fewer rights and far less freedom in the future.

Freedom that you yourselves HAD - but have now denied my boys.



On behalf of my boys and also on behalf of the owls that they love:

Thanks for that.

Thanks for nothing.






]]> (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) barn owl Sat, 01 Feb 2020 19:14:00 GMT
Daffy. January then.

When cultivated varieties of daffodil (so Narcissus agg. rather than the wild Narcissus pseudonarcissus) start to flower on roadsides and on suburban roundabouts (as in the photos below - which I snapped today on my very small mobile phone).

Of course, January is also generally the month (but sometimes it'll be as "early" as December) when people start noticing these "early daffs" and start shouting about them on soeshul meedja, proclaiming that they've never seen daffodils flower in January before and that these winter-flowering daffodils are proof positive of climate change etc etc....


*E  v  e  r  y     s  i  n  g  l  e     y  e  a  r*

The fact that they've not seen daffodils flowering in January before is more of a nod to the fact that they've not really noticed them before, rather than they didn't exist.

These January-flowering daffodils are cultivated, after all, to flower IN January. Or February. Or even December sometimes.

They are literally designed to flower now.

And have been doing so for years.

And years.

And years.


There is a lot of demonstrable, observable evidence of moving or shifting phenological datasets in the natural world - and many of these shifts do indeed point to climate change (or anthropogenically-accelerated climate change, to be more exact) being an incontrovertible fact.  Yes... 'CC' really is a given these days.

But varieties of cultivated daffodils, bred to flower in January, actually doing just that, i.e. flowering in January, on a Bracknell industrial estate roundabout does NOT form part of this evidence.

And like I say, if you've not seen daffs flowering in January before... you've just not noticed them before. They always have been. They always were.

That's all.


]]> (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) daffodil Thu, 23 Jan 2020 15:50:20 GMT
"Balance" and "Natural order" (sighhhhh). I was reading this piece in the Grauniad today...

as I wanted to get a view on plants for birds...and I came across this comment from someone calling themselves TuityFruity.

I know, I know... one shouldn't read the comment section in online newspapers' pieces.

I read TuityFruity's comment and sighed.

TuityFruity's comment has now received a dozen "likes" or "markups"... the most well-received comment to the column I think - not that surprising really as most British wildlife lovers (and Guardian readers also) will think that the comment seems to make the most sense, mentioning "balance" etc, as it did.

TuityFruity's comment is BS though of course - and I started penning a response.

Then I remembered that I'd not be falling into the trap of commenting on online forums (fora?) this year as it really doesn't do me any good.

But I wrote my response anyway... and I reproduce it below. (I didn't add it to the comment section however).

Happy new year again, grapple fans.



"Redressing the balance"?

Oh dear.

A facile cliché often used by those who use other clichés like *shudder* "the natural order" (of things).


There is no order, no balance either.

Natural order is disorder. Some people might call this entropy.

Life and all the zoological and botanical (and mycological!) relationships within, is constantly fluid in nature. Dynamic. Moving... and in competition even.

The whole point of life is to perpetuate that life... and NOT to keep any balance. That's a particularly human concept.


There may be an *illusion* of order and balance - but this is just that - an illusion based on a momentary observation of a fluid system in chronic dynamic competition with all others.

Field voles haven’t evolved (or worse still, weren’t “designed") to hide well from barn owls so that the owls and voles can live in a balanced (or worse still “harmonious”) stasis. Likewise, “balance” isn’t the highest priority of owls.

This notion of balance and stasis is at best, nonsense.

Tuityfruity seems to exhibit all the hallmarks of someone only considering macro biology in her (I assume with an online moniker of TuityFruity, it’s a her) warped notion of balance, too.

What about the myriad of micro biology that she doesn’t see and therefore won’t often or ever consider? The beetles or nematodes or annelids or arachnids or fungi or bacteria or anything else that doesn’t make an obvious noise outside TuityFruity's window. Does bringing in large numbers of (hungry) birds to a small area - and covering the ground beneath the feeders with a load of highly alkali bird poo or food-drop or probing (for other things) beaks “redress the balance” for this unseen life. Of course not.

TuityFruity not only has tunnel vision. It’s filtered too. And myopic.


Even if there was "balance" (there just isn't), to suggest that because people have put decking up next door, your feeder full of fatty sunflower hearts which bring 30 greenfinches to 3 square foot of tree, for months on end, with all their associated diseases and predator-attracting results, redresses this errr… “balance” is simply, demonstrably, unequivocally, unambiguously incorrect.


Conservation is good of course. But it only conserves (or preserves really) the present (perhaps short lived) state of affairs. It does NOT keep any permanency of *shudder* "balance" or "order".


After reading my diatribe above, some may think I'm suggesting that you shouldn't feed birds as it's a bad thing to do and doesn’t help the birds.

I'm not saying that at all.

Feed the birds by all means... help the odd bird in times of need – and also get a load of personal pleasure from it – but…. be honest enough to admit that the primary reason for you feeding the birds is YOUR OWN pleasure – and not the birds’ wellbeing or any redressing of any perceived “balance”. (Sigh).

If you REALLY want to help the birds, plant more trees and bushes all over the place ... outside your tiny suburban garden. Oh - and try to live a somewhat less consumer led life whilst using thoughtless, vapid phrases like "balance" and “natural order” far, FAR less often.


Recommended further reading for TuityFruity and anyone else who believes in “natural order” and “balance” and “stasis”:


"Are British garden wildlife lovers harming wildlife?" (A blog post by me in November 2018).


The Red Queen by Matt Ridley (yes yes, I know we all think Ridley is a bit of a plonker these days… just read his early stuff… like Dawkins… and forget the rest).






]]> (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) balance natural order rant sigh Sun, 19 Jan 2020 19:12:49 GMT
2020 vision.


Happy new year to all my reader.

I thought I'd kick off this year with a review.

A binoculars review.

Well... it is 2020 after all, so this optical equipment review is certainly apt!


I'm sure the regular reader of this blog will know I've never been comfortable with people calling me a "birdwatcher" or worse still... a "birder". (shudder).

Sure, I've been watching birds since I can remember (4 or 5 years old?) but then again I've been watching everything since that age.

Not just birds.

But insects too.






Planes even.



You get the picture. Pretty-well anything outside … that moves.

So I'm more of an "outsider" (in every sense) than a "birdwatcher".

From quite an early age, when I thought of your typical "birdwatcher" or "birder" (shudder), I thought of some middle-aged (or older) bloke (almost always a man), white, often called Nigel (apologies to any nice Nigel reading this), who spoke using his nose more than his mouth and often banged on about how many birds he'd seen in his life and why his £1000 pair of binoculars or spotting scope was so much superior to my second-hand TASCO rubbish.

I also often got the impression, after coming across these Nigels all the time, that they weren't really interested in the birds they professed to be interested in, missed a lot of other wildlife and sights and sounds whilst "birdwatching", bored me rigid... and to be frank they weren't the sort of people I wanted to associate with. At all.

The snobby optical equipment thing was a real stumbling block for me when I met "the Nigels".

I have never owned a pair of expensive binoculars. I couldn't possibly justify spending so much money on something like that. I couldn't afford them even if I could justify the expense!

So I lugged around my Grandfather's beaten up, old, heavy 20x50 whatever-they-weres for years... and basically got sneered at by the Nigels with their Leica or Zeiss binoculars.

For the last decade or so, my wife and I have been sharing a dirt-cheap pair of TASCO 10x42s, which were at least new when I bought them.

But now, after a little research, I decided to buy a new pair, as those TASCO binoculars have got badly scratched over the years and filled with all kind of gunk.

The pair I decided to buy is a (wait for it... you may not have heard of the brand before) pair of CARSON RD 8x42 binoculars.

I know. I know. I hadn't heard of them (Carson) before my research, either.

Look... the whole point of this blog post is to quickly review these EXCELLENT binoculars and demonstrate that you DON'T have to spend north of £500 or even north of £150 to get a decent, a very decent pair of binoculars - despite the protestations of the Leica and Zeiss Nigels, banging on about their ED glass.



Why did I choose this pair - and what do I like about them?



  • I wanted a pair of good light gathering binoculars.  When you're looking at the light-gathering capabilities of binoculars, remember to divide the diameter of the objective lens (42mm in my case) by the magnification (8 in my case), giving you a figure (of 5.25 in my case). This is the effective exit pupil figure (EPF) of the binoculars in millimetres.  I didn't want this EPF to drop below 5.25 (even 5.0 would have been too low, so 10x50 for example would have been out for me). I actually think this is the MOST important figure to consider when looking at technical specs of binoculars for watching wildlife. Especially in dull old Britain. Wildlife tends to be most apparent at dawn or dusk (or night of course!) and without a good light-gathering capability in your pair of binoculars (so yes, an EPF of at least 5.25 if possible), then it doesn't matter that you have a 12X magnification or a 20X magnification in your binoculars - you won't be able to see that owl in the gloom, as you'll have an image that's too dark to see anything much and too shaky (more magnification means MUCH heavier binoculars).


  • I didn't want to spend more than £130 (I know, I know... I have a large amount of Scottish blood in me - what can I say).


  • I wanted the ocular lens diameter (the lens which you look through) to be at LEAST 20mm, if not more like 24mm. This makes looking through the binoculars and lining your eyes up to "get" the image, far easier for you - and also easier for kids who aren't used to binoculars. These Carson RD 8x42s have an ocular lens diameter of 23mm. MUCH better than my old TASCO binoculars.


  • I wanted all the lenses to be multi-coated, rather than some single coated. The Carson RD 8x42s are all multi-coated.


  • I wanted the prisms to be silver coated, making the efficiency of light reflection within the binoculars to be maximised. Tick there also.


  • I wanted them to be relatively light, easily adjustable and have lens covers which can remain attached to the binoculars. Final tick!


  • Finally... which wasn't on my list... these Carson RD 8x42s come in a very well-made, sturdy hard case - which will be GREAT for packing in  suitcases etc if we ever go abroad again - but not so good for putting in the driver's door compartment of my car I'm afraid. I drive a gurt big estate car which I call "the hearse". It's a big black Octavia Scout and generally it has plenty of space to store things. I always have my binoculars in my door cubby hole - but I'm afraid the rigid Carson RD case won't fit in that space. So they now go in, nekked. So to speak. That said, I think the Carson case is a plus point generally - like I say, I'm sure I'll be very happy about the sturdy case when I bung my binoculars in a suitcase.


I ordered these binoculars from Amazon and paid £120. 

So... no... these aren't cheapy cheap binoculars like ohhhh I dunno… Celestron or yes... Tasco.

But they are INCREDIBLE value for money I think. 

They arrived yesterday and I've already tested them out in the field.


  • Chromatic aberration and fringing is superb (for non ED glass), close focusing is great too, field of view isn't too bad (it's never going to be too bad at 8x magnification though - much more problematic at 10 or 12 or 20x magnification) and compared to our old TASCO 10x42s, it's like shining a torch on the subject. Chalk and cheese.


  • I'm blown away by the large ocular (where you put your eyes) lenses too. I am aware that as I get older and older, like everyone, I simply won't have the ability to open up my pupils as much as I could when I was 18 for example, (maybe I could've opened up my pupil to 7mm at 18yo, it will be more like 5mm now I'm past 45!), so perhaps 8x50 binoculars (with an EPF of 6.25 (that's 50/8 remember) would be wasted on me these days). Something around 5.25 is perfect (like my new Carson RD 8x42s) but also with a nice big ocular lens (of 23mm in this case).


  • Finally the eyepiece adjustment is great (I've started wearing reading glasses, or varifocals to be precise) since I turned 45, so it's handy to have 17mm of clearance for when I'm NOT wearing my glasses (most of the time in the field as my long range vision is still UNSURPASSED at present!) or when I am.


Grapple fans. The point I'm trying to make here is that these relatively cheap (you can probably pick them up on ebay for £100) binoculars are honestly SUPERB.

If these binoculars were available in the 1980s or 1990s, they'd have cost closer to £1000 than £100, believe me.

So no... you really don't have to spend many hundreds of pounds to get a nice set of binoculars that do the job really, REALLY well.

Oh sure, the snobby Nigels may still sneer. 

But I'm too old to care these days and even if I  did care, I'd honestly think it was they that had wasted their money, not me.


Right then. That's all for now.

If you get a chance, do read THIS review of these (award-winning I now see!) binoculars, which is far more detailed than my review above.

And do consider buying these excellent jobbies, if you're looking for a cheap(ish) new pair.

Or if not my Carson RD 8x42s, might I also recommend (even though I've not bought them, these also ticked all my boxes above):

Helios Nitrosport 8x42. Even cheaper than my Carson RD 8x42s at £80! With phase corrected lenses too! And no, I don't suppose you've heard of Helios binoculars either? Again... I'd not either - until I looked into the subject in detail over Christmas.


Of course... you could still consider buying these binoculars instead, especially if your name is.... Nigel.








]]> (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) binoculars carson rd 8x42 Thu, 09 Jan 2020 10:31:16 GMT
A bit batty? My eldest and I are having great fun this winter "holiday" looking for and finding barn owls in the local countryside at dusk.

Yesterday was no exception - and our latest barn owl performed marvellously in front of us, silently quartering over the winter stubble field in the gloom as we crouched down, holding our breath(s).

Also... and it's worth noting this - yesterday, my eldest boy spotted the owl first - if it wasn't for him I may well have missed it! (My eyes and awareness are legendary generally... but I'm not superhuman and I LOVE IT when he sees something before me - it means I'm training him to "use his eyes" (a nod to long-standing readers of this blog there) well).

At dusk yesterday we also watched three roe deer and the usual big covey(s) of red-legged partridge and roosting jackdaws and two v-formation skeins of geese flying just over our heads to their roosts in a quite stunning sunset.

Then there were the rabbits of course and the tawny owls waking up and proclaiming their territories.

What we DIDN'T expect to see on the 30th December though... were BATS.

My eldest is 7 years old so is always in bed when bats tend to emerge (after dusk in the spring, summer and autumn) and told me last night that he'd never seen a bat before (despite us being luck enough to have TWO pips hunt in our garden each dusk during the typical "bat season").

Yesterday though, we watched two bats (common or soprano pips) hunt around a local church and then saw another on our walk back from watching the barn owl a few miles away.

Three bats out in the day (effectively) and in the winter (definitely).

Mad. Or... *ahem* batty?

I reported this as a footnote to my latest barn owl report on the "Berks bird sightings" website and a local young birdwatcher kindly emailed me to tell me that he had seen two soprano pips at Windsor Great Park on the same day (yesterday).

Whether this is a sign of global warming or not is debatable - but it certainly is a sign of a very mild couple of days in late December and a few hungry local bats hoovering up the odd winter moth and gnat that is around....


Happy 2020, grapple fans.




Below. Moon. Belfry. Venus. (last night).

]]> (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) barn owl buzzard canada goose common pipstrelle egyptian goose rabbit red-legged partridge roe deer soprano pipistrelle tawny owl Tue, 31 Dec 2019 09:54:59 GMT
Floody great! Merry Christmas to the reader (s?!) of this wildlife blog.

A quick question to start this wee blog post.

The photo below was taken by me at our local farm yesterday, after we had had our Christmas lunch at a local pub.

The photo is of a flooded single track road around a winter crop field at the farm.

That said, the flooded single track farm road is not quite how it appears in this photo.

But why not?

Answer at the end of this blog post!



My eldest boy and I spent the afternoon (well... hour at dusk anyway) on the hunt for our local barn owls, which we've not seen for months and have had such a dreadful autumn.

In case you weren't aware (I'm sure you were... but anyway....) UK barn owls are at the northern edge of their worldwide territory in the UK (in fact I think I saw the one of the world's most northerly (at the time) pair of barn owls in North Scotland in the mid eighties) because... well... basically... they just don't DO rain. In order to fly silently and hear their prey, barn owls have fluffy edges to feathers with very little oil in them - they basically can't afford to get too wet or they get waterlogged, can't fly, can't hunt and therefore can't eat and can't survive.

And we've had night after night of rain round 'ere this Autumn.

But like I say, at dusk yesterday, Ben and I decided to go hunting barn owls on foot, rather than by car... and we found one! HALLE and indeed LUJAH!

Not only that, but I showed Ben how to call one towards one, by mimicking a vole. 

My eldest boy now thinks his Dad is friends with all the barn owls!

Anyway... it's lovely to have seen one of our local barn owls again last night and lovely to be able to show them to my boy(s) rather than just go and see these things on my own, like I've pretty-well been doing for the past forty-odd years!




The photo of the flooded single track farm road then.

Did YOU spot what was wrong with it?

The photo is reproduced again below...



































It's the RIGHT WAY ROUND (flipped vertically 180 degrees).

Just to clarify then, the first two times I put the photo of this flooded single-track road under a still, blue Christmas Day sky on this wildlife blog, I posted it upside down (the sky at the bottom of the shot and the reflected trees in the flooded road at the TOP of the photo).

The reproduction above is the right way round (flooded reflection of trees and sky at bottom of shot and actual sky at top) and I've added accompanying text and a red ring around a bit of floating flotsam in the flood to show the viewer that this photo is now the right way round. You'll see in the first shot at the top of this post that that bit of flotsam is still there... but at the top of the shot... in the supposed sky.

There were other visual clues of course, which you may well see a little better now that I've explained it all.


Right then.

I have tea to make.

Merry Christmas to you... and all of us here at Black Rabbit Towers (including the barn owls) wish you a peaceful and prosperous 2020.

Until then then...




]]> (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) barn owl christmas flood Thu, 26 Dec 2019 16:54:05 GMT
Watching one's carbos. Everyone has a crow in their neighbourhood with a call that sounds like the ring of an old phone, amirite?  And when I say "old phone", I don't mean an old smartphone, but one of the first cordless phones or an old bakelite rotary phone with a handset complete with transmitter at one end and receiver at t'other.

Yes. Everyone has a crow in their neighbourhood that sounds like that. A standout crow, if you like. Shunned by its brethren and er... sesren? for NOT being able to produce a proper crow CAW like THIS.... but instead like THIS.

But we lucky folk in North Bracknell not only have an "old phone crow" but also a standout cormorant too.


Every day if I can, but certainly a few times a week at least, I try to take a five mile walk around the 'hood. These walks get me away from my computer, clear my mind, strengthen my back and probably do me the world of good I expect.

Regular readers of this blog may appreciate that whilst on my walks, I tend to notice the local wildlife.

And I've REGULARLY noticed a rogue cormorant flying in large laps around North Bracknell.  On its tod. Sometimes high. Sometimes quite low. But almost invariably (if that isn't an oxymoron... and in fact it is!) stubbornly just flying round and round in giant laps above North Bracknell. And never seeming to land.


It's weird.

It should be on the Thames with the others. 

Or on one of many large reservoirs  and/or gravel pits in this part of the world, where one can find (much to the anglers' disgust) dozens of these (former) sea or coastal birds.

But our rogue cormorant here over North Bracknell is a rebel. A loner. A maverick cormorant existing on the fringes of cormorant society.

It almost makes me wonder whether it's a real cormorant or not.

I watched it this morning doing laps in a rare blue sky over North Bracknell - and thought to myself...


"I wonder. I wonder if that weird cormorant (that doesn't behave like any other cormorant) isn't, in fact, a cormorant at all".

"Perhaps it's some kind of clever drone -put up over North Bracknell each morning to check on the traffic movement or local residents".

"Yeah. Perhaps it's a police cormorant".


As I finished my walk, I strolled past Farley Moor Lake

And as I strolled past this lake in North Bracknell... I amazingly saw this cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo) actually land on the lake.

So "it can't be a drone can it?" I thought... 

... as a police car drove by me, very slowly, with both police officers inside looking at the part of the lake that the cormorant just landed on.



]]> (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) cormorant Wed, 18 Dec 2019 12:47:53 GMT
Did you catch me on LBC Radio yesterday? Well?
Did you?

Some chap rang into "Mystery hour" on the James O'Brien LBC radio show to pose the question:

"Why are goldfish so-called, when they're clearly NOT 'gold' coloured, but orange instead".

Now, regular readers of this blog may remember one of my more popular posts from seven years ago now, where I discussed a similar matter.

Anyway... I thought I'd ring the James O'Brien show and give the chap (and the listening nation... all on tenterhooks, I'm sure you can imagine!) the answer, live on air.


You DIDN'T listen to the James O'Brien show on LBC, on Thursday November 7th, between 10am and 1pm?


Now's your chance.

Download the global player app to your smartphone, or tablet or listen on the webplayer on your desktop.

Go to LBC on the app.

Select Catch-up.

Select the James O'Brien show on LBC, on Thursday November 7th.

Press play.

The show starts with 3 hours left to play.

Fast forward to around 21 minutes left to play (I was introduced just after James says "It's 12:39")

And then enjoy three minutes of yours truly, talking about goldfish, robins, red kites, red-necked phalarope, red foxes, red squirrels, red grouse, the colours yellow, orange, red and gold, the 16th century, Sanskrit and Dravidian roots to words …. and..... Anglo Saxon.

I never got time to mention "red haired" people mind....



Oh.... by the way... you have until November 14th (6 days as I write) to listen to my dulcet tones on the global player app catch-up of recording of yesterday's James O'Brien show - before the episode disappears into the mists of time, like a glowing-eyed, lolloping black rabbit. Beckonnnning yoooooouuuuu.


]]> (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) colour fame at last gold goldfish james o'brien lbc radio mystery hour orange Fri, 08 Nov 2019 18:53:04 GMT
"The wildlife daddies" - a year on the road. Seems a bit crass, posting this, after the sad news a week ago, but here it is anyway.

Whilst most people record on their dashcams and then post online all their near-misses in their cars - my eldest boy and I ("The wildlife daddies") use our dashcam on our car we've called "the hearse" (it's a big black 4x4 estate car) to record all the animals we see whilst out on our drives.

The video below is a compilation of thirty-or-so clips of various animals (from barn owls to stoats) that "the wildlife daddies" have seen then, between early October 2018 and early October 2019 - a year on the roads.

You (as viewers) will do well to see all the animals that either I (or my eldest) point out in these clips - the dashcam is a VERY wide angle lens after all, so makes things appear MUCH smaller and further away than they were in real life - not to mention the fact that Youtube has compressed the original HD quality video.

But I hope you enjoy the video anyway and in it, you'll certainly be able to see a lot of the animals that we point out. A hint here.... as soon as the text (naming the animal in the clip) disappears, the animal does too, at the same time - i.e. the animal leaves the frame when the text naming it leaves the frame.

You may even start enjoying the rather eclectic sound track we often have pumping out of the car stereo on these wildlife drives!

More soon,


]]> (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) barn owl buzzard canada goose dashcam fox great spotted woodpecker green woodpecker little owl mole pheasant rabbit red-legged partridge roe deer stoat tawny owl the wildlife daddies wildlife Thu, 07 Nov 2019 16:59:10 GMT
Sad news. It is with a heavy heart that I should tell regular followers of this blog that our big male hedgehog who (I think) I first noticed in the garden in mid March this year, has died.

Regular readers of this wildlife blog will know that I try to get our local (garden(s)) population of hedgehogs moving around the 'hood as much as possible and am always digging hedgehog tunnels under our fences and even doors, to get them moving around and breeding.

I was aware that on digging the tunnel under our side passage door (through concrete) I was opening up the hedgehogs' territory to include our road - but that was a risk that I had to take on.

For some weeks now, we have had at least two hedgehogs in our garden, one larger male and one much smaller hedgehog (probably male, but still hard to tell). These two hedgehogs have been using my side passage tunnel each night.

I videoed our larger male hog chewing on my hat the other night.

I then videoed him leaving a food tunnel I'd created primarily for the smaller hedgehog, to fatten it up before any hibernation (see below)

So... the last time I videoed our big male hedgehog was at 2am (I forgot to put the trail cam's clock back in this clip) on the 30th October 2019. This will be my last clip of our big male hedgehog, we have to assume.


A few hours later  (about 8am) Anna found the body of this hedgehog fifty yards from our house, on the road - clearly hit by a car.

Very sad news.

I have left reporting this news for a few days, but it would be fair to say now that after a few nights of leaving the trail camera out each night in a vain attempt to keep videoing our bigger hedgehog (a nightly star on the trail camera video clips)… I am convinced that the dead hedgehog outside our house the other morning WAS indeed our large male - as the trail camera has not picked him up once since.

Really sad news.




Does this dark cloud have any sort of silver lining?

Well... perhaps.

Firstly, I can't be 100% sure that the hedgehog killed on the road outside our house in the small hours of October 30th IS our large male. I'm almost sure  -  but I can't be 100% sure. My wife and I have got previous here, finding a squashed hedgehog on our road, 100 yards from our house, thinking the worst and then being nicely surprised nine days later.

Secondly - even if was our large male on the road... we still have our small hedgehog each night in our garden - who is eating lots of hedgehog food in the tunnel I've built for it.

Thirdly - even if it was our large male on the road, perhaps the smaller hedgehog that we have visiting is his progeny (it is almost certainly not even one year old - it really is small) - so perhaps he did get to sow his wild oats before he got hit by a car.

All of this is speculation of course... but a small crumb of comfort perhaps.

Sad anyway though....



This is now the third hedgehog that has been squashed on our 20MPH speed limit road in the last two years, within 150 yards of our house.

I am still dumbfounded that on a 20MPH road, car drivers can still squash hedgehogs on roads.

Sure, I'm hyper-aware and am always looking some way down the road when I drive anywhere - but I thought other drivers at least tried to do the same. I guess not.

So. A plea then to all motorists out there... please, please try to be a little more engaged in the driving process when you're behind the wheel and try to be a little more aware of things on or by or crossing roads. One could perhaps forgive you for accidentally squashing a frog, or a stag beetle... but not a pint-glass (or bigger!) sized hedgehog.

Because if you don't fully engage in the job of driving well (and NOT hitting and killing things) and you all still continue to insist to brick up your telly-tubby gardens  - well... we will have no hedgehogs left in a couple of decades.

It's incredible to think that when I was a boy in the early eighties, doing my paper-rounds in the dark, I'd always see/hear four or five hedgehogs each night... without even trying - but fast forward a few decades and my sons may well not be able to see ANY soon. Or ever again.

How sad would that be?

Too sad to think too much about, to be honest.


Until the next time then.


]]> (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) hedgehog Sat, 02 Nov 2019 15:47:27 GMT
You tell me!

Regular readers of this blog may know that we have two hedgehogs wandering through our side passage each night - a large male and a smaller female.

At this time of year they'll be looking to seriously fatten up before settling down in a suitable hibernaculum for the winter.

But last night our male hedgehog decided to have a right go at my old Bristol University Rugby beanie hat - and I mean a RIGHT go at it!

Have a look at the video below and you tell me what is happening!


Is he looking for bedding material for his hibernaculum?

Does he find the smell and taste of my old UBRFC hat irresistible?

And what is all this excessive licking and cleaning about - is he suffering (more than many hedgehogs) from ticks and fleas etc?

Strange days nights...


]]> (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) bristol university Bristol University Rugby Football Club hedgehog strange UBRFC Tue, 29 Oct 2019 11:43:34 GMT
WPOTY. The worst ever? I know, I know. Six years ago now I moaned about the lack of invertebrates in winning/commended images in the prestigious WPOTY competition, run by the Natural History Museum in London.

That changed pretty quickly when invertebrate categories were included (the organisers of the competition CLEARLY read this blog!) but the following year I was even more damning of the earnest commentary to the winning photo (and not just the overall winner), penned by the photographer(s) himself (themselves). I mean... they called THEIR OWN IMAGE.... "almost biblical". Come off it!


Those two years aside, I try NOT to criticise the world's most prestigious wildlife photography competition, as the winning images are invariably breath-taking - and we all (four of us now) do visit the gallery at the NHM each year.

We won't this year though.

Because... and whisper this quietly if you need to... the quality of images that won or were commended are the worst ever. Easily.

I'll run through a few and what I find disappointing with them... but remember this is a subjective critique. You are entitled to disagree in the same way as you have a right to be wrong!



Let's go then.

Prepare to see the world through my eyes...



The overall winning shot. "The Moment"

Which has been reported the world over as a marmot being "surprised" or "spooked" by a fox.

I look firstly at wildlife photographs as a zoologist or amateur naturalist I suppose. I firstly try and ascertain (if it's not immediately obvious) what it is that I'm looking at, when I look at a successful image in the competition. And THEN I look at the artistic merit of the image.

And I'm BORED stiff of photographers (not videographers - you'll see why in a moment) ascribing human qualities/emotions/behaviours to their wildlife photograph - capturing a millisecond of action and then basically MAKING UP what the result of that image depicted.

Many people I know (who are admittedly less "into" wildlife than I am) will, if asked to say what was going on in the winning photograph, would agree with the hacks who have said "the groundhog/marmot/lemming/whatever it is.... is indeed being shocked/surprised/spooked by the fox/wolf/whatever it is".

Even the photographer said so. "This Himalayan marmot was not long out of hibernation when it was surprised by a mother Tibetan fox."

The image does seem to depict a surprised marmot.

But it isn't an image of a shocked/spooked/surprised marmot is it?

No. No it isn't.

It really isn't you know.

If it WAS a photo of a spooked marmot, the fox would be in the air, millimetres from the marmot with its own teeth bared.

But the fox isn't in that position at all!

No....what the image actually shows is a snap shot of a marmot FIGHTING FOR ITS LIFE. With mouth open wide either as a result of barking in pure fear/aggression/defence at the fox and or sheer muscular effort at the need to act IMMEDIATELY and with SPEED... just to survive.

The fox is the giveaway in this.

The female fox is not jumping on the marmot or even heading in its direction, even though it is almost on top of the marmot.

It has BEEN SEEN. And It KNOWS IT. It is now either circling 'round or backing off. The game is up. 

If you look at the image that way (the way I describe, the CORRECT way), you'll see the marmot isn't at this moment, "surprised".

It's MID FIGHT (and probably, shortly, flight).

The photographer doesn't tell us what happened to the marmot. Or the fox.

My mortage goes on the fact that THIS marmot got away. Purely because it WASN'T "surprised".




"A Taste of Peace" by Charlie Hamilton James.

Look, perhaps I've never forgiven Charlie for marrying one of my childhood sweethearts (Philippa Forrester) but I ask you... do YOU think  this image merits a commendation in the competition? It's a messy jungle with part of an elephant in the background. I look at it atnd I think... "meh".

The image itself, or rather the title of the image itself, only really makes sense when you read Charlie's accompanying explanatory notes.  I'd suggest that if you need to read the notes to "get the image" (and even then I don't think the image is at all interesting to be honest), it should go on the "meh" pile of submitted images, rather than the "shortlisted" pile.  



"Little Leapers".

A lovely image you'd perhaps at first, think.

Until I tell you that you might like to read the photographer's notes again and realise (as I suspected from a quick glance at the tarsiers) that the photographer basically shone an LED torch at these VERY nocturnal mammals, to get his image. That sort of thing makes me very uncomfortable. Nocturnal animals have eyes that really shouldn't have torches shone into them - something that British wildlife photographers might like to remember when they take their cutesy photographs of hedgehogs/foxes etc.



OK then... two together.

The Personality category is always a little fraught for me. What do you mean by "personality"?

Do albatrosses have "personalities"? Or Pike. Or Nudibranchs?

Now, even though I'm ALL FOR invertebrates doing well in these competitions, SPIDERS simply don't have "personality"... so you can rule out this photo and this one too, from what I think is even apt in this category. Technically-superb shots for sure, (even if I've been taking similar types of images for a decade or more now) but these shots do not depict "personality". At least not in my view.


One more?

Oh go on then.

"Dinner Duty".

Your turn.

You tell ME what's so terribly wrong with this image.

(Answer at the end of this blog post!)*



Like I say, I try not to write about wildlife photography competitions on this blog, or if I do, I wax lyrical about some of the wonderful winning images that I picked out as my favourites. This year though, I have no favourites. I'm genuinely disappointed by most of the images.

That all said, I do want to find a thin silver lining to this particular gurt big black cloud.

For me, the inclusion of images of predators actually eating their prey ALIVE is something to be celebrated.

When I entered my (now infamous) photo of a cat eating a nestling, it was met with shock - across the board. It was no pretty image. It was awful to be honest... but you HAD TO LOOK AT IT. You couldn't NOT look at it. It (I'll blow my own trumpet here) had a remarkable power that image - although at the time I certainly didn't include that notion in my accompanying notes. And nor did I call it biblical!!! I was also told by very experienced wildlife photographers at the award ceremony that they loved that photo as it proved that a photo of something eating something else COULD do well in a competition - rather than just turn the judges and public off.

So I'm really pleased that THIS image "A bite to eat" did so well... and yes, I guess this IS my favourite image of this year's winners.


That's that then.

My thoughts on this year's 2019 WPOTY.




Nearly forgot.

*What's wrong with the winning (or highly commended) photo of the great grey owls?

Got it?


I'll tell you then....

The adult owl on the right has the end of its tail out of shot (whether it was never included or cropped out - it's unforgiveable).

Now I'm all for breaking the rules of photography. The golden ratio. Empty space. The rule of thirds etc.

But that, laydeez and gennelmen, is your basic CRIME against photography, so it is.

It's like a wedding photographer taking a group shot... but cutting off everyone's feet.

You just wouldn't pay them, would you? Let alone give them a prize!







]]> (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) 2019 natural history museum nhm wildlife photographer of the year wpoty Tue, 22 Oct 2019 14:16:03 GMT
A quick SITREP Yes... I know... I've been AWOL for almost exactly a month now, but... well... I've been busy, eh?

Work has been silly.

We're all a bit exhausted here to be honest - dodgy tummies and ulcerated throats, headaches etc. All due (I'm sure) to sleepless nights thanks at least in part to our 7 month old boy. So nothing serious but exhausting nonetheless.

My boys have been keeping me busy.

I've now agreed to help coach the U7s at the local rugby club.

I've been busy going to rugby matches and golf tournaments...

AND the rugby world cup is on.

Oh yes... and BBC Parliament is avid viewing these days too (who'd have thunk that four years ago?).


So... Anyway... I thought I'd just drop by to say "hello" and to let you know I'm still here, sometimes... and then I'll booger off again for a week or so I expect.


What's been happening then, wildlife-wise, over the last month? I'll bullet the main points for as much brevity as I can now muster...

  • We've had a pretty dry month (very dry  indeed bone dry to be honest) until the last day or two.
  • Ivy bees have started to feed on our large, dead, ivy-clad damson tree.
  • The leaves have started to yellow and drop - I'll need to net the pond by October 1st.
  • "Our" jackdaws have found our jay feeder (I resurrected it at the end of August after I knew the swifts had gone).
  • But "our" jays have NOT returned yet to find my jay feeder. (I only have it up between September and March each year).
  • I'm still seeing the odd wee flock of swallows and house martins moving south.
  • I haven't heard my first redwing yet (surely only a week or two now).
  • I was the only one (I'm sure) of several thousand rugby fans to see the Kingfisher fishing on the river Crane in Twickenham as we all trooped from the station to The Stoop to see my beloved Bristol Bears play Harlequins t'other night.
  • For the first year in a few now, I've NOT found a hawkmoth or pussmoth caterpillar in our garden, so I could raise it over the winter.
  • Foxes are still nightly visitors to our back garden despite are most northerly (of four neighbours) bulldozing all the overgrown area at the back of the garden bordering ours, where I thiiiink the foxes denned in the Spring.
  • My eldest boy and I have been on a few wildlife drives during the day (not at our preferred night time) and seen our local barn owl and a few pheasants plus a dead mole... but that's about it really.
  • Finally.... we have TWO hedgehogs (I say two... there are AT LEAST two but there could possibly (I doubt it) be three) visiting our garden each night... and I'm proud to say, using my concrete hedgehog tunnel under our side passage door each night.


Regarding our hedgehogs, you'll see from the first video clip below that our biggest flea-ridden, spiky friend is most certainly a male. A well-endowed male at that... and I think this is our original hedgehog.

The second video clip below shows our second hedgehog. Much smaller and much faster than the hedgehog above. This small hedgehog is NOT obviously a male or a female (in that I've not managed to get a gander at its genitals yet... ohhh my wife is a lucky so-and-so isn't she). This hedgehog, although smaller than the one in the clip above, has been MUCH smaller - I almost wonder if its not even one year old yet. I guess I'll never know.

And my final wee video clip from a few nights ago now, shows BOTH our two (I'm almost positive we only have two, not three) hedgehogs in our side pssage together. You'll note, I'm sure, when watching the clip, that the bigger hedgehog is nearest the camera, and is going about its own business when the smaller hedgehog walks into shot in the background and freezes on hearing a nearby hedgehog. All this means is that these two hedgehogs are not a pair. They undoubtedly will "know" of each other's presence in the territory from scent if nothing else - and I'm sure they'll regularly come across each other on their nightly wanderings. But to repeat, whilst it's obvious that the bigger hedgehog is male, I have no idea about the smaller hedgehog (it could be male or female... or even perhaps trans?).

On that last point, whilst it's tempting for enthusiastic wildlife reporters/bloggers to ascribe sex (in terms of gender!) to their regular garden visitors (foxes, hedgehogs, mice, squirrels etc)  unless its obvious (chronically-visible suckled teats on foxes or squirrels, a visible penis on a hedgehog) it is probably best not to guess. Invariably you'll be wrong!



That shallot for now, grapple fans.

I hope, like me, you're enjoying the Rugby World Cup and I hope like me you're getting over the fact that summer, once more, is no more this year.

More soon.



]]> (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) barn owl hedgehog house martin mole pheasant swallow Thu, 26 Sep 2019 16:39:01 GMT
"Operation Yellowhammer". You'll remember the Whitehall dossier which was written a year ago and leaked a couple of weeks ago - detailing warnings of food, medicine and fuel if a "no deal Brexit" came to be... yes?

You may remember also that the dossier's name of "Yellowhammer" was (allegedly) a random choice.


Is it only me that thinks that the name "yellowhammer" fits this dossier PERFECTLY?

I don't think it was named randomly at all.

I think the choice of that name was spot on.


Permit me to explain...


Look, I had my nose in bird books for a lot of my youth... and if you're my sort of age (middle-aged) and were as into wildlife and birds as I was/am - then you'll remember, like me, I'm sure that bird calls were written as English phrases in some identification books, so if you heard them in the field (but didn't see them) you'd KNOW what bird was making that call.

One example might be:

"TEACHER! TEACHER! TEACHER! TEACHER! TEACHER!" (The call of a great tit).


Another example might be:

"Di-vorce. Him. Di-vorce. Him". (the call of a collared dove).


But the most famous example of all was:

"A little bit of bread and NO cheese". (the call of a yellowhammer).


Now ... if "a little bit of bread and NO cheese" isn't a perfect one line description of post no-deal Brexit food shortages, I don't know what is.







You probably have done so already, but if you've not...
Please, today, sign the petition to stop Boris Johnson proroguing Parliament.
The petition can be found here:








]]> (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) yellowhammer Wed, 28 Aug 2019 14:42:06 GMT
"The octopus in my house". Sublime television. Look... we all LOVE wildlife programmes on TV don't we.... and sublimely-shot natural history programmes are almost expected these days, on our gurt-big plasma screens eh?

But it's actually quite a rare thing to watch a scintillating natural history TV programme which relies not on beautiful HD and or slow motion shots of wildebeest cavorting the raging Zambezi etc etc but instead the human-animal relationship, interaction and to some extent, eccentric devotion.

One of my favourite EVER natural history programmes which did just that (the above) was a programme aired about 8 years ago, entitled "My life as a turkey". It was a BBC2 Natural World programme and if you haven't seen it... I urge you to find a way to.

Eight years on and I was slumped on the sofa last night and decided (last minute) to watch "The Octopus in my house" - another BBC2 Natural World (I think) programme. I'm HUGELY glad I did.

Now I may have a very soft (indeed) spot for cephalopods, (I'll blog about my encounter with a cuttlefish in the Med when I get a chance) so yes, I may be biased - but if you've not watched this programme last night - again... I urge you to find a way to. You'll not regret it. I promise. 

The only downside may be that you may take octopus (and calamari more widely) off your meal choices in future.

Anyway... please watch it if you can.



(The shot below of course was taken by me, on holiday in the Maldives, about ten years ago, and shows a wild, adult cuttlefish sitting in the crystal clear waters of the Indian Ocean right by our seaplane pontoon).


]]> (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) BBC2 Natural World octopus The octopus in my house TV Fri, 23 Aug 2019 08:15:56 GMT
Swifts - It's not just the hope that hurts... it really IS the despair too. After last season, I was really hoping that 2019 would finally bring back my favourite bird of all to actually NEST with us again - 8 years after filming them in our old place, "Swift Half", in Reading.


But last year was a different kettle of fish, weather wise , at least here. (Well... it was unlikely to be the same as last year's prolonged heatwave eh?).

That said, this year, the weather in the Med at migration time was quite similar to last year - and when I say quite similar, I mean much worse than normal, with storms and cool temperatures. Last year that unseasonable weather lasted a few days.... this year, unfortunately it lasted a couple of weeks or more and there were many reports of dead and dying swifts all over the Med - dying as they attempted their annual northerly migration. Some of those unfortunate swifts could have been ours. By that I mean the young birds that explored our attic last year. The birds that I hoped might return to nest with us this year. A horrible, horrible thought.

Again, you may remember that last year I wrote about this and wondered if it would be a blip last year or a sign of things to come - has climate change already made this "unseasonable" weather in the Spring in the Med, quite normal? Well... two years on the trot is still a blip at present... but if we get  more years like this in the next few... then I'm afraid to say that it may be the case that we may have to get used to not seeing swifts in any numbers at all in our British skies in a couple of decades or less.

I know.

A dreadful thought.

But look... if we continue to blast all insects with pesticides and tidy up our soffits and fascias… we give swifts no food and no shelter. And that's IF they get over here at all, after we've buggered up the climate, meaning that their ancient window of migration north to breed, in late April... is blocked by low temperatures and storms.

This year though, despite what Nick Brown absolutely incorrectly says in this piece, we had a warm, reasonably-SETTLED May here and a reasonable June too... albeit worse than last year's scorcher)

We've just got to hope that last year and this was a blip - in terms of poor weather in the Med JUST when the swifts migrate north.


And as for the new "Swift Half" here. Well... I fear it may be back to square one. It's taken me 7 years to get swifts to explore our attic boxes last year - and we had NO swifts explore our boxes this year. NONE.

Oh sure... we had regular swifty fly-bys in the last three months and each fly-by was announced by the familiar scream - and they DID seem to be screaming at our house (and Mp4 call!). They were here most days (dawns and dusks)… it's just that NONE banged on our roof... and they've been doing that for at least four years and exploring the attic for the last season.


I occasionally see a swift high in the sky over the house in early September, moving south - but if I see no more this year, then the last I saw im 2019 was a week ago - at dusk, giving the house a fly by again.

I'll try to be positive now, at my LEAST favourite time of the year, when my swifts disappear... but this year in particular, it won't be easy.

We've lost HALF our breeding swifts in the last decade or so.

Last year was quite poor across the country (admittedly not here at "Swift Half") and this year has been REALLY poor - and the worst year ever here at the new "Swift Half".

Graph below courtesy of Bird Track and the BTO.

Last year provided me with a gurt big steaming ladle of hope (see photo below).

But this year.... well....


We'll just have to try and save some of that hope, if any's left.  We can't lose hope! This is too important!

May 2020 isn't that long away....






]]> (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) Apus apus swift Thu, 22 Aug 2019 06:30:00 GMT
Bird Photographer Of The Year 2019 A quick post this morning - and a nice, upbeat post... before I drag you through the pits of despair later in the week I'm afraid, when I blog about this season's swifts.

That post (coming) won't be a pretty picture... unlike some of the photos below...

This week saw the winners of the BPOTY (Bird Photographer Of The Year (2019)) competition announced.

Most of the photos are superb... just superb, including the overall winner.

Have a look at the winners yourselves here... and also have a look at some of my favourites on that website and below.

Wonderful stuff....


]]> (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) BPOTY Tue, 20 Aug 2019 07:30:00 GMT
What I did with (the rest of) my summer holidays.  

We didn't go away this year, but instead took two weeks of day trips to places less than an hour and a bit away (or so) in "the hearse".

Highlights included The Lookout Centre, Swinley Forest, Blackbushe Airport, Marwell Zoo, Beale Park, Bucklebury Farm, The Hawk Conservancy , The British Wildlife Centre and Bird World.

I've already posted a fair few photos here , here , here and here... but below are some more photos with brief captions visible (I hope) if you hover your cursor over an image...

Our youngest boy looking (dare I say it) very photogenic indeed in this shot.

Red Squirrel at The British Wildlife Centre

Another red squirrel at the British Wildlife Centre

Our eldest boy getting close and personal to his favourite British mammal (we took him to see real WILD ones at the Isle of Wight last year) at the British Wildlife Centre

An otter at The British Wildlife Centre

Our eldest boy watching his mummy's favourite wild British mammal at the British Wildlife Centre, near Lingfield in Kent.

My favourite wild British mammal - at the British Wildlife Centre

Barn owl flying at BirdWorld, Hants.

Our eldest boy's favourite wild British bird, a barn owl, flying at BirdWorld, Hants.

Our eldest boy's favourite wild British bird, a barn owl, at BirdWorld, Hants.

A wonderful (laughing) Kookaburra flying at BirdWorld, Hants.

A (pretty beat-up) male black-tailed skimmer dragonfly at Beale Park

A nest of swallows at Bucklebury farm park. One of about 15 nests we think.

A HUGE female sparrowhawk in our garden in a rainstorm.

The eastern sky above our garden at midnight on the night of peak Perseid activity. I saw two lovely meteors but didn't get any on "film" this year.

Hartslock nature reserve, a photo taken from Beale Park. Hartslock Nature reserve is one of two (only two!) public sites in the entire UK where one can find monkey orchids in late May or early June.


]]> (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) beale park bird world blackbushe airport bucklebury farm marwell zoo swinley forest the british wildlife centre the hawk conservancy the lookout centre Mon, 19 Aug 2019 13:29:48 GMT
The Hawk Conservancy Yesterday, I took my wife and two boys to a place I've been visiting every few years for the past thirty-five years... The (wonderful) "Hawk Conservancy" near Weyhill, Andover, Hants.

Unlike London (or Marwell for that matter) zoos, I always voluntarily donate to The Hawk Conservancy when I visit - as I think it does quite superb work on behalf of raptor conservation worldwide.

Below are a few photos I took during our time there yesterday (the last photo being included on my eldest son's insistence - and yes after yesterday he STILL has the barn owl as his favourite bird) - and honestly, if you've never been... do yersels a favour and go. I promise you won't regret it.


]]> (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) The Hawk Conservancy Thu, 15 Aug 2019 19:51:34 GMT
I see grayling.

We (me, my wife and two boys) took a wee walk through Swinley Forest and Caesar's camp t'other day, as the heathers (bell and ling 'round here) both tend to look pretty good in August  - and anyway, I do LOVE my lowland heathland

Not often do I see grayling at all, let alone away from the coast...


but I managed to spy one sunbathing on a path through the forest (ACTUAL path in the photo below).

The grayling is a bit of a success in the local forest - as you can read here. (Although I think I saw them in this part of the world before that particular report was penned - but then again I have RIDICULOUS eyes so would back myself to notice these things before many lepidopterists might and journalists certainly would). Nationally I hear this butterfly's population has declined by almost two thirds in the last decade or so.

Graylings (Hipparchia semele - named after a mistress of Zeus) can be difficult to see anyway sometimes, as they tend to sunbathe with their wings closed (NOT showing their "eye" patterns on their forewings) and therefore blend in to patches of bare earth. That said, if you DO manage to spot one, as I did, it often will allow you to get quite close, so confident will it be in its camouflage cloak. As long as you don't cast your shadow over it, mind.

Lovely to see though, as was the heather and views and walk itself (some more photos of the forest below).

]]> (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) butterfly grayling hipparchia semele swinley forest Wed, 14 Aug 2019 15:37:14 GMT
BBC1 The more zoologically-knowledgeable among you will know my photo below is of a Broad Bodied Chaser. (Just the one).

Spotted by my eagle-eyed elder son.

Takes after his old man then....


]]> (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) broad bodied chaser Wed, 07 Aug 2019 18:19:52 GMT
What I did (so far) on my summer holidays... Due to the fact that we have a 6+ month old baby in tow as well as a six year old and three cats to look after at home, we have decided to keep to mainland UK for our annual fortnight holiday this year, or, to be more specific, to be based at home and take day trips to various places within a short drive from the hyse.

These places should (already have, in some cases) include zoos, nature reserves, pubs, rivers, canals, woods and heaths, farms, dinosaur golfing, foot golf, boating, cinemas, a big city or two and various tourist attractions. Oh... and more pubs.

I've set our eldest boy the challenge to find animals during this fortnight that begin with every letter of the alphabet apart from 'X'. I'd prefer wild British animals to populate this list but it would be fair to say that going to the zoo helped with this list yesterday ("Zebra"). Then again, he is hugely helped by the fact that his father can literally take him to see a badger or a barn owl or a buzzard and even if he couldn't, his father could tell him that the beetle that he found isn't just a beetle, but a "bloody nosed beetle" or a "blister beetle" or a "brassy willow beetle" (or for that matter a "blue willow beetle"!).

Anyway... below are a few shots I've taken on our trips over the last few days...

I think the boys are having fun.  What  kid DOESN'T like bugs and creepy-crawlies and lions and tigers and tropical butterflies and leaf cutter bees and barn owls and foxes and rabbits and stoats and red kites and spiders and bats and eagles and piranha fish after all?

Animal highlights so far have included the ostrich below (at the zoo of course, although lovely to see her on an egg), bloody-nosed beetle (photo below too), emperor dragonfly (Yes... "E" for Emperor dragonfly - my zoological mind won't allow any child of mine to just call it "D" for dragonfly I'm afraid), leopard (zoo also of course), tiger (ditto) and the omnipresent (currently) cinnabar moth caterpillars in our local meadows (photos below again).

All this and our fortnight together is only two days old so far! 

]]> (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) animal alphabet challenge summer holiday Tue, 06 Aug 2019 18:15:27 GMT
Puttock augmentation. Today marks the 30 year anniversary. I first blogged about this in April.

But today EXACTLY marks the day, thirty years ago now, on 1st August 1989, when five Spanish red kites were reintroduced to the leafy southern Chiltern escarpment.

This day, August 1st, thirty years ago, kick-started a remarkably-successful reintroduction programme up the spine of England and in Scotland too.

Thirty years of bird. Never stopped me dreaming.



]]> (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) red kite Thu, 01 Aug 2019 09:36:30 GMT
Brown hawker - two close-up photographs

The beautiful (but dying) male brown hawker dragonfly that moy woyf and boy brought in off the road for me to identify yesterday sadly died overnight, outside on the sunflower stem.

So I thought I'd bring it in and take two more close-up photos of this beastie, before lobbing it onto the compost heap and thus returning it to the earth. Maybe in fact, I should lob it back into the pond - at least then it'd be returning to its home of a couple of years, before it grew wings and terrorised the skies above the pond.

Not the best photos I've ever taken (taken in a hurry with my old bridge camera) but at least you can see the bronze hue to the wings now (this is the colour that gives this dragonfly its "brown" name, even if I think "bronze" might be better) and the blue in its eyes.

A lovely wee beastie, now being taken apart (I expect) by ants in the garden.


]]> (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) Aeshna grandis brown hawker dragonfly Tue, 30 Jul 2019 13:37:14 GMT
A bit of a waist? After my eldest son insisted, my wife brought in (from the road) a beaten up dragonfly for me to identify, this morning.

A lovely brown hawker, so it was.

And a male, to boot.  (I think the best way to differentiate between male and female brown hawkers is to look at the abdomen, and if there's a noticeable waist (a wasp like constriction), it's a male you're looking at... (and if there isn't a "waist".... yes.... it's a female).