Sunday, 23 November 2014

Le Parc du Marquenterre

Parc du Marquenterre

A long overdue visit to the Parc du Marquenterre nature reserve in the Baie de Somme last month was always going to be at the mercy of the weather gods, but - despite atrocious conditions on the English side of the Channel - we arrived to find the reserve basking in glorious (and warm) sunshine. The whole site was alive with dragonflies and damselflies, including this striking Willow Emerald, a first for me:

Willow Emerald Damselfly

Other firsts included Spoonbills, a White Stork, a Crane (not "wild" in the strictest sense of the word, but still very nice to see), a Cattle Egret, and several Great White Egrets, one of which flew right past the hide:

Great White Egret (Ardea alba)

The reserve is very well maintained and the viewing hides are large and numerous (there are thirteen of them). However, instead of using hinged windows (common to reserves like Stodmarsh) they employ a series of holes, only a few of which are large enough to point a camera lens through. It's also worth nothing that if you're of an average height or taller, these particular holes will require you to bend your knees in such a way that maintaining the same position soon becomes uncomfortable. Call me cynical, but I suspect this is a deliberate design feature so as to discourage individuals from hogging the best spots.

That minor quibble aside, if you've never been to this beautiful reserve it's well worth a visit ... or two ... or three...

See also:
More of my pictures from the Parc du Marquenterre
Parc du Marquenterre website

Monday, 1 September 2014

Broadstairs Water Gala 2014

Once again Broadstairs was blessed with sunshine and blue skies for the 2014 Water Gala, although the crowds seemed slightly down on the previous year. The good visibility and light breeze meant that all three planned air displays could go ahead, beginning with the Extra 300, which looked like it was pulling quite a few g's as it looped and soared:

This was followed by the Trig Aerobatic display team with their precision formation flying:

And finally, what I - and just about every other photographer there - had really come to see, the Grace Spitfire:

Pictures only tell half the story. It was a real privilege to hear that Merlin engine roaring over Viking Bay.

The Gala was rounded off by a fireworks display in the evening. It seems mandatory these days for every display to be accompanied by a hovering drone shooting footage from a bird's-eye perspective (not that any bird would fly near a firework). Was it wrong of me to feel disappointed that the drone survived the display without getting hit? The organisers must have been in a hurry to get home, as the last thirty or so fireworks all seemed to go off at once, much to the delight of the watching crowds. Intentional or not, it provided a suitably window-rattling finale to what had been a highly entertaining day.

See also:
More of my photos of the 2014 Water Gala
Broadstairs Water Gala (official page)
Trig Aerobatic Team
The Grace Spitfire ML407

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Birds of East Kent: Ring-necked Parakeet

Latest in an occasional series of posts discussing the different birds that can be found in East Kent and how easy (or not) it is to get a decent picture of them.

This series isn't intended to cover every species of bird that lives in or visits East Kent - I haven't seen them all for one thing (let alone photographed them) - but there's one particular bird that can't be ignored ... mainly because it's so damn noisy.

It seems few birds divide opinion more in this country than the Ring-necked Parakeet. And, as with any divisive species, several urban myths have sprung up around them - in particular the subject of where they came from. Two stories crop up with predictable regularity; one being a mass escape from the set of the 1951 film The African Queen; the other being a deliberate attempt to liven up the British skyline by none other than Jimi Hendrix (though don't you think the Scarlet Macaw would have been more Jimi's style?). The somewhat more prosaic truth is that parakeets have been escaping into the wild since Victorian times, and any releases by Hendrix (or indeed Bogart and Hepburn) would have served only to enrich an already growing population.

Thanet holds possibly the largest concentration of parakeets outside London. They've colonised all the major parks, and the trees at Ramsgate train station form a prominent roost site. I've seen them as far west as Grove Ferry, but - as far as I'm aware - they haven't made any significant incursions into the woodlands surrounding Canterbury. (Correct me in the Comments if you know better.)

Photography-wise, the biggest challenge may be finding a way to get the whole bird in your camera's viewfinder without cropping the end off its extremely long tail. King George VI Park is a reliable place to get close to them (they're largely indifferent to passers-by so you can generally walk right up to them) or, if you've got bird feeders or apple trees in your garden, you can wait for them to find you.

For me at least, the novelty of seeing a bright green parrot balancing on a feeder that plainly wasn't designed for it (while another one hangs upside down from a washing line) has yet to wear off. I admit it: I'm a fan of the parakeets, but then again I don't own an orchard. They're intelligent and resourceful birds with lots of character, and if you close your eyes when you hear them you can at least imagine you're in a more exotic part of the world than Planet Thanet.

So what does the future hold for the parakeets? Will they spread across the country like a plague of green locusts, eating everything in their path? Will they gather on the rooftops like a green-tinted Hitchcockian nightmare, squawking so loudly that everyone goes deaf or mad (or both)? In centuries to come will alien explorers wander through the ruined cities to find the last humans huddling in mute subservience to their parakeet overlords? With their fast flight and powerful beaks, are there even any natural predators capable of taking them on? After witnessing a beleaguered kestrel being seen off by a green mob I had my doubts, but recently I saw four panic-stricken parakeets being pursued across the skies of Broadstairs by a Peregrine Falcon (putting the old advice to "eat more greens" in an entirely new light). So perhaps the proliferation of the parakeet is good news for at least one of our native species.

See also:
More of my parakeet photos on Flickr
Ring-necked Parakeet (RSPB)
Ring-necked Parakeet (Birdforum)
Ring-necked Parakeet (Birdguides)

Ring-necked Parakeet (Non Native Species Secretariat)