Monday, 20 September 2010

Town and country

I worked til early afternoon on Sunday and then could take no more, so we went to Tonbridge to see Michele. The weather was supposed to improve, so we hung around at hers drinking tea and glancing at the leaden sky from time to time but it remained resolutely un-sunny. Soon it was time to take Mushu the dog for her post-prandial walk.

Down by the castle, there were a few people feeding the ducks and pigeons. This Grey Squirrel wanted a piece of the action too but was a bit reluctant to descend from the safety of his tree.

Looking across the river to a rather nice garden with a riverside frontage, Michele noticed this male Red-crested Pochard on the bank among the many Mallards. He was fully winged, as he demonstrated when jumping into the water.

What a state. The bouffant orange hair-do should grow in properly over the next few weeks and transform him from ridiculous to magnificently ridiculous.

Back in Michele's front garden, a wildlife drama was unfolding - a hefty Garden Spider preparing her packed lunch. Rob set up the BigMac on a tripod for a few photos but he's still not happy with them. With this kind of shot, any slight breeze can ruin everything. I think it looks pretty good though. You can just make out the poor wasp's face - sinister stuff.

We went on to Haysden Country Park after that for a mini-walk. It was by then 5.30pm and the light was bad, to say the least, but it was nice to look around a new area even though it was rather quiet, wildlife-wise.

This country park contains lakes and rivers, and is pretty much overrun with Himalayan Balsam, a colourful, pungent non-native (and considered invasive) plant with a very effective seed dispersal method. When ripe, the pods explode violently at the lightest touch, scattering seed over the local area.

We noticed several insects visiting the flowers and burrowing into the bucket-like bits at the back. They were unusual-looking things, with a pronounced silvery sheen on their uppersides. Keen to ID them later, I took a few pictures.

It looks like a bee. It looks a lot like a Honey-bee in fact, apart from the silvery fluff on its thorax...

... but hang on. This one looks like a wasp! Then the penny dropped. It is a wasp, and the first one was a bee. The silveryness is Himalayan Balsam pollen, and plenty of it. No wonder these plants are so successful at quickly colonising new areas.

At Haysden Lake, there was little to see. I walked out onto one of the little wooden pontoons to check out the view, and gave this young Great Crested Grebe a fright when it surfaced just a few feet away from me. Scanning the more distant waters revealed a few more GCGs, a mix of adults with fast-diminishing head-dresses and stripy-faced youngsters.

On the way back I took a few photos of the many House Martins feeding overhead. Extremely poor light + very fast and small bird + massive crop = rubbish photos. This was one of the least rubbish, which isn't saying much. Among the House Martins scythed a single, very late Swift. I managed two pics, in which it somehow looks like a mutated flying goose.

As we got in the car, I noticed a splendid male Great Tit on the wooden fence, hungrily eyeing what looked like a Scotch pancake on the top of a nearby bin. I wound down the window and he came over to the bin to do battle with this large and awkward prey item. The light by this point was really minimal, giving me about 1/100 sec at maximum ISO, but by bracing the camera on the window frame I managed a sharpish pic (on about the 40th attempt).

Oh, Rob didn't make it out of bed this morning in time for his planned pre-work trip to Cliffe, so that will have to wait for another time!

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