Friday, 22 October 2010

Magical Mushrooms and Dodgy Deer

After boring you all with my adventures on the other side of the Atlantic, settling into uni and Canon finally returning my 7D and 100-400mm after their ultra fast service…NOT!! It was time to get out and about photographing stuff.

As you may know (viewers of Autumnwatch especially) October is the month of the deer rut. Last year I spent hours strolling around Ashridge forest trying to get ‘that’ shot of 2 fallow deer stags clashing antlers in a battle for the ladies. I failed.

So this year it was going to be harder, I wasn’t even based in Hertfordshire anymore so that meant trips home to and a tighter time budget to try and achieve my long-standing goal.

After a great lecture at the Royal Geographical Society in London by Mark Carwardine (off kakapo rape fame - ) I headed home for the comforts of my own bed, mothers cooking and seeing the family. Of course this was the main reason to return home but the call of the Deer rut was too tempting.

I awoke Saturday morning tearing myself out of my warm bed to drive over to Ashridge. Pulling up in my usual muddy lay by, I kitted up and wandered hopefully in to the woods…silence. This was not right, last year the woods echoed with the sound of belching stags. I strolled to the usual stands and still nothing I had a brief glimpse of some hinds strutting into the bracken and that was all.

The closest I got for a few hours was this…

However, I was still hopeful thinking it was just a break in proceedings. I was wrong. Although a few fallow were around they were hard to track down in the dense woods blending in perfectly.

I soon began to lose hope until I stumbled upon a real gem I had never seen before.

An Amethyst Deceiver. I had never seen such a mushroom and didn’t know there was one this colour. I quickly began snapping away (liking the fact it didn’t move, I could get as close as I liked and it performed well unlike the deer).

While concentrating on the mushroom I heard a crack of twigs thinking another human had discovered me, I was wrong. For once it wasn’t me tracking the deer but an inquisitive ‘pricklet’.

I soon began to give up hope of the deer beginning to perform as the day drew on so decided to relocate in search of more mushrooms.

I headed over to Symondshyde Great Woods, a seemingly abandoned nature reserve where my friend had found some interesting shrooms.

I met him on the path and we headed in search of the classic Fly Agaric, at the back of the reserve on a quite overgrown footpath we found 2 classic examples.

The woods were full of mushrooms covering the floor ranging from midget mushrooms to massive bracket funguses on the trees.

Puffballs were poking through the leaf litter



The next day spurred on by our mushroom success me and my friend decided to head to Balls Wood the newly acquired reserve by HMWT (

The sun was shining and the birds were singing. Heading past a few ponds we noticed a late dragonfly darting about.

After much attempted perches on my head it decided the log I had positioned myself by was more attractive after all. It must have not liked the scent of my ‘Head and Shoulders’ flavoured hair.

After leaving the dragon to do it’s stuff in the last bit of warmth of the year we stumbled upon our first mushrooms of the day.

Some delightful Stinkhorns. They smelt interesting to say the least and I heard the jelly ‘bulb’ they grow out of can be taken as an aphrodisiac, I’m all for trying new things but think I’ll give that a miss.

After crawling about in the leaf litter photographing the stinkhorns I almost crawled right over this beast who wasn’t best impressed.

After leaving the hornet buzzing around I discovered some more Amethyst Deceivers

A few more puffballs…

And a Blusher

A good weekend back in Hertfordshire showing it still has stuff to offer after being spoilt a bit in Kent but more to come on that later ;)

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Sunday afternoon on the riverbank

Since starting my new company back at the beginning of August, opportunities to post on The Badger's Eye have been scant, evenings and weekends taken up with the inevitable overspill from the working week, plus a bit of football, which is always a distraction! In the meantime though, we have had the wonderful reports from Luke's trip to the north-west coast of the Americas to keep us entertained.
With last Sunday such a beautiful day in the south-east of England I took the opportunity to sneak off for a couple of hours with camera and hide. I chose a spot on the River Rib just to the north of Standon Lordship where in the snows of last winter I had spied a kingfisher, my obvious hope that one of these wonderful birds would make an appearance for me.
Sadly, I was to be disappointed. Wrong place, wrong time maybe or perhaps the occasional passing walkers and their dogs kept the 'azzuri' away from the short patch of riverbank under my gaze.

No matter though, the day was glorious, the warm sun on my back through the hide as I sipped coffee from my flask. A moorhen kept me entertained and the sound of the babbling brook added an idyllic soundtrack to my reverie. The low, strong sun made for high contrast in the hawthorn bushes that lined the banks, the bright red berries looking succulent and ripe. No birds visited them, perhaps saving these life-givers for later into the winter period.
A few hours later I packed up and returned up the path, pausing to gaze on the medieval splendour of the Lordship, so recently home to summer festival sounds of Standon Calling. As I leant on the fence, a dragonfly hovered by me and then came to rest on the post next to me, warming it's cold-blooded body in the descending afternoon sun. I identified it as a Ruddy Darter, with an abdomen of red and and a dot on each of its four wings. It was a delight to study close-up, giving a small highlight to my restful afternoon.
Ruddy Darter Sympetrum sanguineum
At 34-36mm long, this species is smaller than the Common Darter. It's legs are entirely black and it has black marks at the tip of each of it's four wings. As they mature, males become blood-red, females having a yellow ochre abdomen and thorax. Both sexes have a noticeable constriction in the abdomen. The Ruddy Darter inhabits weedy ponds and ditches and also woodland. It's currently expanding range includes south-east England and central Ireland. Various immigrant and resident species of Darter are difficult to identify, particularly the females. The blood red colour of the male however is a clear identifier.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Corals For Conservation

The project i helped on in Fiji restoring coral reefs which i learnt about through a film called 'The Coral Gardener' aired again on BBC2 this evening.

If you're in the UK it can be watched again on iPlayer

'The Coral Gardener' film is a finalist at Wild Screen Film Festival this year too.


Friday, 1 October 2010

Alaska - The Final Chapter

Our next and final port of call was Ketchikan, it’s claims to fame are salmon and totem pole capital of the world.

One of my aims of the holiday was to try and photograph the salmon run which was in full flow. I even packed my underwater camera!

On reaching an accessible part of the river I was greeted by a family of American Dippers and Collared Kingfishers which were all darting about and feeding.

After viewing the salmon from the riverside fighting their way up against the current.

I decided to roll up my trousers and brave the freezing water. Coho salmon were the salmon using the river and it was harder than I thought to approach them. Approaching from behind was easier to get tail shots and the ones that seemed to have growths on their eyes did not move to far away.

Not all salmon make it some being caught by various predators, disease, beaching and exhaustion.

Our final trip out from Ketchikan was one I’d been looking forward to the whole holiday, taking a floatplane out to Neats Bay to hopefully watch black bears fishing the salmon run.

I didn’t want to get my hopes up of seeing the bears just in case but what we saw was amazing.

The floatplane took us over the island sometimes lower than the mountaintops.

On meeting our guide he gave us the bear ‘safety’ talk mentioning that they may cross the path directly ahead of us. I thought this was just him making us more aware not that it’d actually happen. But soon enough we had met our first bear.

It crossed the path with a salmon and into the woods to finish it’s meal. Soon after this view we were treated to around 6 more bears appearing fishing for the salmon sifting through the shoal looking for the tasty egg filled females.

The bears seemed to be tolerant of our presence fishing and passing within 8 foot at times. Quite an experience!

One of the highlights of my holiday to be so close to these bears and enjoy watching their behaviour and interaction between one another.

Around the bears, hundreds of gulls perched on any available space waiting for any morsels of salmon to be rejected by the bears.

I jammily managed to get in the co pilots seat for the return leg of our journey. Getting great views out of the windows and feeling slightly more important.

The final leg of our cruise took us back into Canada seeing large pods of white sided dolphins while eating dinner, more porpoises, skuas, phalaropes and orcas.

Tail slaps

Overall an awesome trip, with some great sights seen which I will remember forever.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my accounts.