Storm Dennis had passed (well almost) and a chance to get out and visit the London wetland centre in the hope of seeing a wintering Bittern.

I followed my normal route ending up at the Tower hide. The first hides had their normal selection of waterfowl. There were a number of Great Cormorants of the European race (as opposed to our normal Atlantic race) noticeable because of their white head markings.

From the Tower hide some fellow birders put me onto a Sparrowhawk perched on a fence. There was a deal of discussion about this bird due to the highly visible white patches on the wings and it was decided it was probably one of last years young.

Sparrowhawk

No Bittern emerged on the main lake so I set off to reservoir lagoon where two had been seen the previous day. It was to be an afternoon of quick views as a Kingfisher flashed over the end of the lagoon. As time drew on, I suddenly noticed a movement off to my left and focused quickly enough to see a flying Bittern disappearing from view below the vegetation on my side of the lagoon. Not the best view so will have to try again another day.

Walter Raleigh was born in Devon in 1552 (or 1554). Little is known of his life. He took part in the French religious wars on the side of the Huguenots, studied for a year at Oxford and joined the Middle Temple (later in his life it was stated he had never actually studied law). At the age of 20, he was in the army that suppressed the Desmond rebellion in Ireland and came into the ownership of some property confiscated from the rebels. He was granted a royal charter to explore the Americas and led two expeditions to South America and also organised the expedition that founded the colony at Roanoke in North America, although he did not personally accompany it. In 1585 he was appointed Lord Lieutenant of Cornwall and Vice -Admiral. He was a member of Parliament for Devon in 1585 and 1586. In 1591 he was made Captain of the Yeoman of the Guard and received a number of gifts of property from Queen Elizabeth I. However in June 1592, he was imprisoned on her orders as it was discovered he had secretly married one of the Queen’s ladies in waiting without royal permission. In August he was released to lead a raid on Spain and although he captured an incredibly rich prize, he was put back in the Tower on his return to England. He was finally released early in 1593 and resumed his place in parliament, this time representing Cornwall. He spent much of his time on his estate in Sherborne with his family. In 1594, he travelled to Guiana in search of a fabled golden city, but by 1596 he was back in royal service at the capture of Cadiz, where he was wounded. In 1597 he led a raid on the Azores and was involved in the defeat of the Armada. The same year he was elected as MP for Devon and 4 years later for Cornwall. From 1600-1603 he was Governor of Jersey.

Queen Elizabeth died in 1603 and Raleigh was arrested in July, accused on being involved in a plot against James I, who had succeeded Elizabeth to the English throne. He was tried and convicted, but King James spared him execution. He remained in the Tower until 1616, when King James granted him a charter to return to Guiana in search of the golden city. Unfortunately, a group of soldiers disobeyed Raleigh’s command not to attack any Spanish forces they encountered. On his return to England, the Spanish ambassador demanded the death sentence originally passed on Raleigh in 1603 be reinstated (It had been part of the terms of his release that he undertook no offensive action against Spanish interests). King James had little option but to agree to the ambassador’s demands. Walter Raleigh was executed at the Palace of Westminster on 29th October 1618.

This statue of Raleigh can be found in the grounds of the Royal Naval College at Greenwich.

I can see clearly now

Posted: February 13, 2020 in History, London, UK
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I recently had the opportunity to visit the British Optical Museum at the College of Optometrists near Charing Cross in London. The College is the regulatory authority for all professions to do with eyes except for surgery.

The museum was founded in 1901 by the British Optical Association and moved around London as they moved headquarters. It opened to the public in 1914. In 1980 the collection passed to the College of Optometrists and the current museum, which occupies the college basement, opened in 2003.

A depiction of Early Chinese glasses

According to legend spectacles were used in China as early as the time of Confucius (c500BC) and Marco Polo reported their use there in the 13th century AD. They began to appear in Europe around the 14th century.

The collection covers the history of spectacles and eye tests and also the more wacky and outrageous things that have been developed or proposed.

The museum is open to the public most week-days by pre-arrangement with the college and is well worth a visit.

A trip to the RSPB reserve at Dungeness in East Kent with Bexley RSPB group. The reserve is on a large shingle ridge which has been built up over the years and has then been used for gravel excavation leaving a series of pits which have now filled with water.

Main pit with Dungeness Power Station in background

Our first stop was the ARC pits – the highlights here were a couple of male Goldeneye amongst the commoner ducks and a patrolling Marsh Harrier over the reed-bed. This is often a good spot for Great White Egret but not today.

We then move onto the main part of the reserve. It seems very quiet, a common complaint this winter as there does not seem to have been the usual influx of winter migrants into the UK. One exception is a male Smew and I set off to find it on one of the pools. I have not seen one for a few years now as they have become less and less common in the south-east of the country so this is a real treat. Eventually, with the help of a few other birders, we locate it on a channel on the far side of a field and we have good views through the telescopes.

Distant Male Smew
Male Smew (taken at Slimbridge Wildfowl Collection)

The main pools were very busy, but only with Great Cormorants. I was told there are over 3000 on the reserve, which is I was told a all time high. The seemed to take up every tree and every island.

I did find a small party of Black-tailed Godwit on one small island and saw a very close male Goldeneye.

Not the highest total of species but the male Smew was the highlight of the day

A wonderful post with some great photos showing the beauty in nature from Roads End Naturalist

All nature is but art unknown to thee. ~Alexander Pope

Earlier this week, I accompanied some friends on a stroll through one of my favorite local natural areas – Johnston Mill Nature Preserve in Orange County. This area is managed by the Triangle Land Conservancy and is one of their more popular sites. I love […]

Natural Art — Roads End Naturalist
Migrant Hawker

Where did January go? Suddenly we are one month down in 2020. Before we know it the Butterflies and Dragonflies will be back with us.

Following the blow through by Storm Brendan mk2, the following day again dawned bright and sunny and we had one last full day before heading back to London.

So we went to the RSPB reserve at Arne, situated on a peninsula which projects into Poole Harbour. At the visitor’s centre, we spent some time watching the feeders with Great Spotted Woodpecker and Coal Tits being the highlights. After a wonderful breakfast in the reserve cafe, Sue and I set out for Shipstall point. At the hide overlooking the channel, we saw a party of 20 Eurasian Spoonbills, a large group of Eurasian Curlew plus Avocets and Common Redshanks. A variety of Duck were also present including Eurasian Wigeon, Northern Pintail, Eurasian Teal and Shelduck. A Peregrine Falcon flew over the marsh before heading in the direction of Poole and on our way back to the centre we flushed a male Sparrowhawk.

Our next stop was at the Boating Lake at Poole Park where a Great Northern Diver had been reported earlier in the day. We spent sometime looking but could not see it. However, Red-breasted Merganser and Goldeneye were present on the pool.

The day after Storm Brendan blew through the south-west dawned with abright sunny morning.

I started the morning at Sandsfoot castle overlooking Portland Harbour. Surveying the harbour there were a number of gulls, a couple of cormorants and a Great Crested Grebe but no sign of the Black-necked Grebes or Divers that use the harbour as a wintering spot.

I continued along the Rodwell way towards Ferrybridge. This path is the old Weymouth to Portland railway line which has now been converted into a pedestrian and cycle path stretching from Weymouth to Ferrybridge. Near the sailing club I noticed three grebes lazing on the water. A view through the telescope confirmed that these were 3 Black-necked Grebes.

A female Eurasian Stonechat was a welcome sighting as this species seems to be in decline around the UK coasts and a once common bird on coastal walks is now seen far less frequently.

As I was approaching Ferrybridge I saw a diver in the harbour. It was quite distant and so I cannot be absolutely certain of its identity (2 species are regular seen within the harbour) but the lack of a large head and bill and the dark colouring suggested that it was most likely a Black-Throated Diver.

Arriving at Ferrybridge there was a small group of Red-Breasted Merganser on the Fleet plus a Little Grebe. On the shingle bank about 120 Brent Geese were roosting from the high tide. Later this moved down onto the mudflats as the tide receded. Strangely there was not a single wader on the mudflats today.

Spent the morning at the RSPB reserve at Radipole Lake in the centre of Weymouth. As I left the visitor’s centre a Cetti’s Warbler called from the reeds and by the stone bridge a female Bearded Reedling was trying to cope with the reeds swaying in the wind. At the northern scape a male and a female Marsh Harrier were seen fling above the reed bed.

As I walked back to the centre the rain began to start falling and the winds became stronger, the first front of Storm Brendan which was due to reach Dorset in the afternoon.

Spent the morning at the RSPB reserve at Lodmoor, just outside Weymouth.

On the islands, there were about 12 Common Snipe along with some common waterfowl.

As I walked down the western edge I was surprised to find a Black swan, This bird is native to Australia, so all birds encountered in the UK are escapes from bird collections.

Apart from around 50 Lapwing, the only other wading bird was a single Common Redshank. In with the flock of Black-headed Gulls was a single Mediterranean Gull and a couple of Common Gulls. In the reed-bed, a couple of Water Rail were heard calling and a flock of Common Pochard were seen on the northern pools.

In the afternoon Sue and I went to the cafe at Chesil beach for afternoon tea, which also gave me the opportunity to have a look on the southern end of the Fleet, where there was a Little Egret, 5 Red-breasted Mergansers and about 30 Dunlin.

The Fleet at Chesil