Shad does the Arundel Wetland Centre

Arundel Wetland Centre

The deepest of greens, the brightest of blues and richest of browns, birds come in a stunning variety of sizes and colours.   They chirp, twitter, chirrup and cheap, squawk, croak and whistle.  If there was a prize for the species with the widest ranges of noises, surely they’d win hands down!  Or beaks up!  I was so excited when John’s daughter Natasha pitched up at the house and we bundled into the car on this cloudy grey day to visit the Wildlife and Wetlands Trust site in Arundel, West Sussex.  The Trust has spent many years protecting the wetland landscapes and conserving the thousands of species who rely on it or live in it.  Like the Whirligig Beetle who looks like a shiny black opal that gyrates around the surface of the water looking for aquatic insects to feed on.  If you think the word Whirligig is amusing, there are lots of funny named creatures in the wetlands.  See if you can spot the Taiga Bean Goose in the photos, a speckled brown bird with striped wings and an orange patch on her beak.

Surges of adrenalin coursed through my veins every time I saw the flicker of a wing or heard the splash of water but I knew to keep my distance from the vibrant wildlife given my appearance as a sleek black predator.  If only the birds and mice knew that I’m a sophisticated feline who jointly runs a photography business and has an active interest in the caring for all things nature.  As I hopped over the gaps in the wooden slats of the walkway and headed towards the thatched hide, a pair of Brent Geese floated regally by on the water, their reflections perfectly captured in the shallows beneath.  I peeked through the thick pallid winter reeds to spy on a lapwing cruising towards the bank with his fabulous feathered crown standing proudly at the back of his black head.  Suddenly John whispered to me to look up and there a Canada Goose hurtled towards me from the skies above.  I ducked my head down and ran away as she landed on the water with an enormous splash, quickly regaining her composure before gliding off with relative grace.

The handsome Kingfisher is one of my favourite birds, smartly dressed in blue and orange and contrasting with the pair of Shoveler Ducks with their shovel-like bills that were drifting elegantly by.  A Curlew paddled across the sandy wet terrain looking for worms and seeds to eat whilst a pair of Mallards with their characteristic blue stripe on their sides headed towards the long dry grass in search of a cosy corner to spend the night.  The trees and bushes provided camouflage for many perching birds like the Blue Tits who weigh a tiny 10g and somehow don’t get blown away by the winds.  The slightly larger Great Tit was staring at the freckled Dunnock who had spotted a bug crawling along the branch below and I felt like there was going to be a rumble!  Meanwhile a Chaffinch puffed its pale pink-beige chest out in envy at the Long-tailed Tit who had found a yummy piece of suet just seconds before.  The red, yellow and brown Goldfinch kept his beady eyes on the log mound decorated with 3 giant Stag Beetle replicas.  I sat by the log mound for a rest and started chatting to a delightful little bank vole who told me she scampers to the back of the kitchens every night for crumbs and morsels of food which set me thinking about supper.  Natasha has incredible stamina and could have gone around the Centre one more time but John and I voted for home via an eating establishment after a wonderful day out.

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Shad does the Solar Heritage

Imagine gliding silently across a stretch of calm water, watching sea birds dip their heads under the still surface while the autumn sun warms your face and puffy clouds float high across a pale blue sky.  This was my experience as I sat with John on the Solar Heritage this weekend for a wildlife discovery tour made possible by the friendly and environmentally attuned humans of the Chichester Harbour Conservancy.  The Solar Heritage is a pollution-free solar-powered catamaran that takes people out to Chichester Harbour to learn more about the coastal waters and the resident wildlife.  This clever boat is kind to sea-life because it has no exhaust emissions and it can even pick up electromagnetic energy from moonlight to charge its batteries.

Chichester Harbour

Chichester Harbour02

Chichester Harbour, which has received international recognition as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, is full of wide expanses and intricate creeks making it particularly attractive to wildfowl many of which feed on substances found in the mudflats and saltmarshes.  Fear not, an intellectually advanced pussy cat such as myself does not feel the need to chase these birds despite a little rumbling somewhere deep in the depths of my genetic code!  According to the brilliant wildlife expert aboard, there are more than 50,000 birds who either reside in or visit the harbour throughout the year such as swallows, house-martens, oyster catchers, brent geese and lapwings.  We managed to get photos of some wonderful birds including the dark-feathered cormorants and the grey and white coloured sandwich-terns (note the yellow-tipped black bill and the black crest on its head).  The cormorants were particularly keen on showing me their diving skills, cutting sleekly into the water like a missile where they can submerge several feet to catch their dinner of small fish and invertebrates.

For some reason I started feeling peckish and discovered to my horror that John forgot to pack the chicken niblets that I normally have for my mid-morning snack.  Luckily the boat master came to my rescue with a piece of tuna from the skipper’s lunch box.  The skipper appeared slightly bemused and I was just about to give him one of my ‘gets ‘em every time’ looks of innocent melancholy when the nice lady from the Chichester Harbour Conservancy announced that a group of common seals were sunning themselves along one of the stony beaches that border the indented harbour coastline.  Quite honestly I thought at first that they were rocks on the sand until one of them lifted their head lazily to glance in our direction before gently lowering its back to the ground.  Apparently seals don’t believe in wasting energy and I respect that!

It was a real treat to see these wild animals looking relaxed and well fed in their natural environment.  This small colony of around 27 animals is of great scientific importance because it is a breeding colony estimated to have 2 or 3 pups each year.  If you look carefully to the right in the seal pictures, you will see a larger seal behind a smaller one which we believed to be a pup, as well as a russet coloured grey seal slightly to the left of them.  Common seals (known in Canada and the US as harbor seals) come in a variety of colours but can be identified by the shape of their heads and nostrils, and grey seals aren’t even grey!  Who thought that up?!  Anyway, the biggest threat to this small but significant population of seals is human interference, like over-fishing or changes in water chemistry resulting from toxic boat engines or the over- clearance of vegetation.  The Solar Heritage stayed move than 100 metres away from the seals so as not to disturb them but unfortunately there were other curious humans on boats that ventured far too close to the animals.  This stops them from engaging in their natural behaviours and leads to them eventually leaving that particular area, or haul-out as it’s known in the trade, and I’m sure no one wants to see the seals disappear.

As we made our way back to the Harbour Office, I wondered what creatures were hidden beneath the shimmering surface of the gentle waters.  The wildlife expert told me that there were probably lots of crabs, shrimps and worms which all sounds a bit slimy and unpleasant to me but no doubt sounds yummy to the marine life that hopefully flourishes beneath the water.  The harbour is designated as a bass nursery too which I thought was quite charming as I imagined parent bass taking their baby bass to a playgroup for craft activities and learning to play with other baby bass in the sand-pit!

Witterings

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Shad takes a look at beach huts

Many of the shorelines along the south coast are lined with rows of beach huts Worthing and Bognor Regis sea fronts are no exception.  Beach huts are a quintessential characteristic of British seaside life and their beginnings can be traced back some 250 years to a time when no trip to the seaside was complete without a ‘bathing machine’.  Apparently these vehicles were like beach huts on wheels drawn by horses who pulled them towards the sea so that the bather could step directly into the water without risking their modesty.  By the 1890’s it became more acceptable to walk across the beach in a bathing costume and share the beach with members of the opposite sex and before long villages of stripy changing tents were erected on the Edwardian sands.  Eventually bathing machines lost their wheels and our modern day purpose-built huts began to appear, constructed in a similar style and painted in bright colours.

Judging by my walk along the seafront with John, there are plenty of beach hut fans out there because all but one of the beach huts we saw were well maintained.  A crowd of crows gathered on the top of their favourite hut and squawked their approval as we ambled past.  When John and I stopped to sit on a bench, we got chatting to a nice mature couple resting in deckchairs on the patio of their own beach hut, all too happy to regale us with the joys of beach hut life.  They offered us a cup of tea and a biscuit while we watched the jet skiers zooming around on the water and I gazed out to sea, wondering what kind of life lay beneath the shimmering surface.

There are some wondrous creatures in the sea like the Thornback Ray found in shallow waters all around England or the dolphin, a highly intelligent and social marine mammal located across the world.  I looked at the fishing gear sitting on the shingle close by and wondered how many of the ocean’s dolphins and sharks were caught right at that moment in discarded fishing line or huge commercial fishing nets.  These nets are often left behind by irresponsible trawlers and travel many miles across the deep, risking the lives of marine animals that become trapped in them.  John showed me a video the other day of some kindly humans relaxing in their cruise boat somewhere near the equator when they spotted a sea turtle in distress and stopped to free it from its ropey tangles.  Sea turtles are one of the earth’s most ancient creatures having been around since the time of the dinosaurs so I was pleased to see this little guy rescued to continue its legacy.  Scientists estimate that around 26 million pounds of plastic travels from land to the sea every year contributing to massive floating patches of rubbish that kill one million sea birds and 100,000 marine mammals.

The two Minute Beach Clean

As John and I stood up to take our leave and head home, we thanked our generous beach hut hosts for their hospitality and made our way back along the dried grass pathway adjacent to the beach.  John stooped down to pick up an empty plastic water bottle that someone had left on the ground and I contemplated the lovely afternoon we had enjoyed with this couple who represented a time of trust and simplicity which I liked.  I also liked them because they gave me tea and biscuits and they clearly had taste, having spent a considerable portion of time stroking my fluffy black cheeks and admiring my plucky personality!  Next time I go to the beach with John, I must remind him to pack a little picnic.

Shad takes a walk around the garden

I’ve got ‘the wild’ right on my doorstep in the form of a rather overgrown back garden.  John says he’s let it get back to nature, but I suspect this noble sentiment is an excuse for not mowing the lawn!  Nevertheless, we both enjoy looking at the garden and all the treasures it holds which is why I like to take a stroll around it from time to time, admiring Mother Nature while I think about my work.  In the 2 ½ years that John and I have been running Shadow Photography, I’ve been involved with happy couples planning their wedding day, excited exhausted mothers eager to have pictures of their young baby for the mantelpiece, highly strung horses next to shiny horse boxes and wily creatures who shy away from the camera. You can find stories about my experiences and examples of the colourful and dynamic images I have produced during my work if you look back at https://shadthecat.wordpress.com/.

 

Weddings are great because people are always happy and the atmosphere is one of romance and optimism.  A bit like the mood created by these adorable garden birds who decided to have a splash together in the bath while I was crouching under the shrubbery with my camera.  Some of the birds in the garden (like the sparrows, blue tits and great tits featured in the photos) are so small I’m amazed they don’t get blown away by the wind.  Don’t worry, I’m not tempted to chase them, I’m far too busy analysing the light and shade in the frame, judging depth of field and generally perfecting my photography skills to be dashing around after my feathered friends.  I was really lucky to catch a glimpse of a green woodpecker as you can see from the picture and I would have taken more shots only this worker bee kept buzzing around the flowers right next to me and it really put me off!

 

I like to take pictures of the flowers because I can play with the focus and emphasise the colour to create some striking shots, like these views of the cherry blossom and bluebell-type plants in the garden.  I have produced a number of beautiful prints from these shots as well as more abstract images from the magnificent architecture that lies at the heart of history in this country.   They make a lovely gift to yourself or someone you care about so if you’re tempted, check out http://www.shadow-photography.com/.  On the website you’ll also discover the portfolio of work that John and I have developed over the last couple of years which gives you a flavour of our style.  Please remember us if you want a professional portrait at a preferential rate, or if you have a friend who plays in a band or a family member getting married and you want to capture the fun on film.  In the meantime, I’ll continue to share my thoughts and snapshots with you in this blog while I beaver away at building the business.  Shadow Photography is there for all your photographic needs and John and I only require a cup of coffee and a saucer of cat milk to keep us happy and working hard!

 

Shad talks about snowy owls

The snowy owl is one of the most recognisable of owls due to its cat-like yellow eyes and unmistakeable white plumage that echoes its Arctic roots.  It’s the largest (by weight) North American owl and is a carnivore, living up to 10 years in the wild and weighing around 3 to 7 lbs (up to 3kg), with a wingspan of 4 or 5 feet (up to 1.5m).  This regal creature is diurnal which means that it is active both day and night, unlike most owls that tend to hunt solely at night.  The snowy owl is a patient hunter with keen eyesight and extraordinary hearing which enable it to identify prey under thick vegetation or snow-cover, before swooping down to deftly seize its quarry with its sharp talons.  The snowy owl’s preferred meal is lemmings (a fierce little rodent smaller than a chipmunk), consuming 3 to 5 each day, and supplementing its diet with rabbits, rodents, birds and fish.

These magnificent owls sometimes remain year-round in their northern breeding grounds, but they are frequent migrants to Canada, the northern United States, Europe, and Asia.  Unless you’re planning to visit the high arctic, you’ll mainly find them in the wild during winter in windswept fields or wide-open areas such as dunes or shorelines, perhaps around Canada or Alaska.  They like tree-less places and rolling terrain where they can find a vantage point to survey the surrounding area, seeking out a good view by perching on telephone poles, buildings, hay-bales, or fence-posts.  In summer, the snowy owl hunts lemmings and other prey in the 24-hour daylight of the Arctic Circle.  Snowy owls were known to breed on the remote islands of the Shetland Isles north of Scotland in the past, but their status in Britain is now that of a rare winter visitor to the Shetland and Outer Hebrides region.

The snowy owl’s beautiful white plumage helps it to hide in its Arctic habitat. They breed on the Arctic tundra, where females lay a clutch of 3 to 11 eggs, depending on the availability of food, and in particularly lean times they may not breed at all. Parents are territorial and brave and will defend their nests against all threats, including wolves and humans.  Only the males are completely white, often flecked with dark brown when they are chicks, they get whiter as they get older.  The females are usually darker than males or may be white with dusky spots on their wings.

I don’t think John will mind me saying that he has the entire collection of Harry Potter movies (for his grandchildren to enjoy so he claims) and I have watched them through on several occasions.  Harry’s owl Hedwig is a snowy owl and although the character is a female, she is played by male owls because their plumage is so white and they are lighter than the females and therefore easier to handle for the human actors.  Seven different owls apparently played the role of Hedwig and their names are Oops, Swoops, Oh Oh, Kasper, Gizmo, Elmo and Bandit.