Thursday, 24 September 2015

Banned by the BBC

When we arrived at the Blue Bell car park yesterday morning we found that part of the car park was out of bounds, because a drone was about to be launched from a grassy bank just east of the toilet block.  Apparently, I missed the maiden flight, but Lynn had managed to take a few pictures of the device both before it took flight, and when it was aloft.
All photos (c) 2015 Lynn Hall
Drone at Rest
 Close-up of Drone
 Drone above Sandy Beaches Caravan Park
Not long after I arrived another launch was about to be made.  The BBC man asked that none of us take any photos of the drone attempting to take off.  He also gave us a warning that as the drone was about to launch we had to be aware of where it was in case it malfunctioned and it behaved erratically and we had to take evasive action.   He was insistent it wouldn't malfunction, but he was obliged to give out the warning.  True to his word the drone did become airborne without incident and headed off along the coast in a southerly direction.

Apparently, the filming at Spurn was for a BBC 2 programme due to be aired early in the New Year which has the provisional title of "Sea Cities."  We await it's broadcast with interest.

A Wild Swan Chase

On Wednesday we were at Spurn. We tried Kilnsea Wetlands first looking for the Bewick's Swan, but without success. There were 5 Mute Swans some Lapwings, but few other birds. The ploughed field to our right was full of chasing Meadow Pipits, plus a sprinkling of Pied Wagtails and a few Skylarks. There were also quite a few Linnets about. 
Bewick's Swan - on Tuesday at Kilnsea Wetlands
 Aggressive Mute Swan
 Seeing off the Interloper
 Size Comparison: Mute v. Bewick's
 Bewick's Unmolested
 Golden Plover
 Immature Kestrel
We shared cars to Sammy's Point. Here we had a pair of Mediterranean Gulls flying inland and a single Siskin looking lost. The waders were too far out, and the light was very tricky. There were plenty of Redshank and a single Knot nearby, plus flocks of Golden Plovers moving continuously before settling in another recently-ploughed field. We had close views of several Kestrels - most of these seemed to be immature birds.
 Ruddy Darter
 Migrant Hawker
Speckled Wood
 Hawthorn Berries
 Female Common Blue
In the afternoon we changed tack, and just walked the triangle. The Bewick's Swan had settled on the Borrow Pits, but later flew off to Canal Scrape with a Mute Swan. This was a mistake because the resident pair of Mute Swans kept chasing the interloper, although when we were watching they didn't turn their full attention to the Bewick's. This was definitely the best bird we saw. There were a few butterflies and dragonflies at the southern end of Beacon Lane.

 Singing Starling in winter plumage
Radar - monitoring Pink-footed Geese

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

It's Autumn, there must be some Bearded Tits

Yesterday saw the first Autumn class.  Less than half of the participants had returned from holiday, so it was a very depleted group which assembled in the inadequate car park.  Even before everyone had put on their coats Bearded Tits could be heard 'pinging' and swinging round we could even see them on the top of reeds above the gate.  We have never seen 15 from the car park before.  It looks as though it's been a good year. 
All photos (c) 2015 Chris Cox 
Male Bearded Tit
 Female Bearded Tit
 2 Bearded Tits
We walked to the first hide, and one of the new recruits coming all the way from Whitby spotted 3 Roe Deer moving along a hedge line.   There was plenty of "pinging" accompanying us on our way, although it began to reduce as we neared the hide.  A Kingfisher heard us coming and flew west along the water filled ditch.  
Black-tailed Godwits
Black-tailed Godwits, Lapwing & Ruff
From the hide itself there were a few Ruff, a large group of Black-tailed Godwits, some Lapwing looking wonderful in the bright sunlight and a handful of Dunlin.   A flock of Avocets flew in, and later we saw a larger group of Golden Plovers, which had been put up by a Peregrine.  Meanwhile Marsh Harriers slowly patrolled the area, but seemed to have less effect on the wading birds.    
 Roe Deer
The walk to the other hide on stilts was less eventful than usual.  We heard a Green Woodpecker on the hillside, and we discovered an elder bush laden with berries, which was full of birds.  Among them was a Blackcap, a Chiffchaff, Wren, Robin, Blue Tit, Reed Bunting among others we couldn't see properly.  As we neared the bush a Cetti's Warbler sang continuously, but by the time we got there it had gone quiet, and we never heard it again.  Throughout our walk some strange squeals by Water Wails punctuated our journey.  
Small Tortoiseshell
 Red Admiral
It was a wonderful start to the term, and I'm sure the Whitby couple saw plenty to make their journey very worthwhile.  It may be a long time before they see a Bearded Tit again, but here they were almost ubiquitous!

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Oxford Weekend

At 8.30 on Thursday morning the week before last I left home with my clothes, speech and computer stuff for the weekend.  Also in the boot was a large glass and wooden cabinet and a big box of Lego – this contained an “Orthanc.”
It was murder getting out of Hull, although I did notice the local TV news anchor in my rear view mirror for half-an-hour.  The motorways weren’t too bad, although there were slow road works in a couple of spots.  I arrived in Oxford after a 3 and a half hour drive.  I went to see if I could find Tolkien’s grave, so I stopped off first at Wovercote Cemetery.  I accidentally parked next to a Tolkien sign-post, but after that for some reason I missed all other the sign-posts, and walked all around the cemetery before I found the right place.  The grave was very tidy with quite a lot of coins from different nations round the headstone a foreign edition of The Hobbit protected by a plastic bag and a rather alarming portrait of Tolkien.  At first it looked like the photograph from the front cover of the biography, but on closer inspection it was a drawing, and it looked alarmingly like an Orc!
Direction Sign next to my passenger door where I parked in Wolvercote Cemetery
 Direction sign I missed the first time in Wolvercote Cemetery
 J.R.R. & Edith Tolkien's grave
I’d never been to gawp at Tolkien’s former homes, so as there was some time before registration I had a look for 22 & 20 Northmoor Road & 76 Sandfield Road.  Number 20 had a high gable with a blue plaque, so was fairly easy to locate.  I didn’t forget to look at the much smaller and much more hidden 22 Northmoor road next door.  Tolkien had lived there first before moving to the larger property when the publisher Basil Blackwell moved out.  76 Sandfield Road didn’t have a blue plaque, but had a rather unusual sculptural plaque, (possibly featuring a dragon) and parts of the house seemed to have been made into smaller units, one of which was called “The Hill” and the other “Bag End.”
 22 Northmoor Road - The Tolkien Family Home (1926-1930)
 In 1930 they moved next door to the larger 20 Northmoor Road & lived there until 1947.
 76 Sandfield Road.  The Tolkiens lived here 1953 - 1968
I dropped off the cabinet and Orthanc, and then it was time for a pain-free registration, and then a look at my room in St Antony’s College.  This seemed much newer and cleaner than Lady Margaret hall, but there was no shampoo!  I freshened up, and then it was time to get ready for a tour of Oxford.

This was in the safe hands of Daniel Helen, who has just completed his masters at an Oxford college.  More than 20 of us made our way into the centre along Woodstock Road, stopping off first at the St Aloysius Oratory, and then a quick look at the Bird and Baby (aka The Eagle & Child).  I’ve never been on a proper tour of Oxford, so this was a bit of an eye-opener, and it was great to see all the varied colleges, and other sites.  
St Alyoysius, The Oxford Oratory.  Tolkien attended mass here when a student and when living in Northmoor Road (1926-47)
 The Eagle & Child ("The Bird and Baby") The pub where many meetings of the Inklings took place. 
 The door to 59 St John Street.  Tolkien shared digs here 1914-15
 50 St John Street.  The Tolkien family lived here 1917-18 when Tolkien worked on the staff of the Oxford English Dictionary
 "The Broad"
 Balliol College
 Monumental Statues outside the Sheldonian Theatre
 "The Bridge of Sighs"
 The Bodleian Library
 The Radcliffe Camera
 All Souls' College
 Exeter College.  Tolkien studied here as a undergraduate
Entrance to Merton College. Tolkien was a professor here from 1945
Merton College
 The door of 21 Merton Street. Tolkien's final home was at the top of this building.  I believe his CBE was stolen from this property
 99 Holywell Street.  Tolkien family home 1950-53
 Plaque on a Bench in University Parks, near the banks of the Cherwell
After the tour there was time for something to eat before the fiendish Tolkien quiz, devised and hosted by the Percivals. The following day a series of talks were given, including my own presentation of "Tolkien in East Yorkshire."  Although I ran out of time, people seemed enchanted by the views of the Cow Parsley in flower in Roos, and the other links between Tolkien's time in the area and clues in his writings.  I also attended and enjoyed "Rivendell and Shangri-La" by Irina Metzler, Bob Blackham's "Tolkien 1915: Graduation & Army Training".  However, the most amusing was Joel Cornah's "Tolkien & Doctor Who", and the cheeky photoshopping of Tolkien leaning against his TARDIS almost brought the house down.  I was really sorry to have missed the silver-tongued Murray Smith's  talk on "Diamonds, Gold, Politics and War: Possible South African Influences in the Hobbit", but hopefully it will be published before too long.   The following day there were some more presentations including the very popular Dr Dimitra Fimi's exploration of "Representations of Childhood in Tolkien's Legendarium." Other enjoyable presentations included Dominic Russell's "Portrait of Denethor", a speedy look at the massive topic of "Tolkien & Shakespeare" by Jessica Yates. and Denis Bridoux's comparison of "Sauron and Dracula: The Transylvanian Connection".

There was a fantastic art exhibition in another building, plus a first-edition Hobbit locked in the glass cabinet I brought down to Oxford, and some interesting art and books for sale in yet another room.  The quiz was the only evening activity I attended, so it's  someone else's task to write about those.  I woke early on the Sunday morning, had breakfast and made the 3-hour drive home on much quieter roads.  Every year the people attending seem friendlier than the year before, so it was a lovely way to spend a weekend if you are interested in Tolkien.